The power of a DNA database has completely changed the way that police and other law enforcement agencies are able to solve a crime. Over the past decade, testing has become more sensitive, allowing labs to test even the smallest amount of DNA, as well as older DNA that has degraded. It seems like every day the news catches onto a story where DNA helped solve an old or current case.
But not only can help DNA catch a criminal, but it can also help exonerate ones who may have been wrongly convicted. All 50 states now allow post-conviction DNA testing in an effort to make sure that those who are innocent do not continue to serve time for a crime they did not commit. That being said, getting DNA testing post-conviction is no easy feat. Judges reluctance to allow this type of testing has law professors like Mark Rabil frustrated that the trial judges are not keeping up with recent changes and laws for DNA testing and simply strike down motions without understanding why new testing is required.
The case of Kelvin Alexander
Mark Rabil is in charge of the Wake Forest University school’s innocence clinic, who has recently hit a major roadblock in his case regarding the 1992 murder, which Kelvin Alexander was convicted of. A North Carolina judge recently denied his request to perform DNA tests on three of the .22 caliber shell casing that were left at the 26-year-old murder scene.
Rabil is disappointed as he says it is one of the strongest cases for innocence he has seen in 10 years, even though the client did plead guilty to second-degree murder in a plea bargain. The case to which Alexander pled guilty to, was the murder of Carl Boyd. Boyd ran the Amoco gas station in Norlina, North Carolina, and was shot at his place of business in September 1992. Two days after the murder, they arrested Alexander on the charges. The case was about to go to jury selection just a year later when the district attorney met with Alexander’s lawyers in hopes of striking a plea deal.
The district attorney offered to reduce the charge to second-degree murder, stating that they had a witness that placed him leaving the scene shortly after the murder. The witness’s name and statement was not provided to Alexander’s lawyers. Alexander firmly rejected the deal, reiterating the strength or his alibi and again professing his innocence.
Within a day of Alexander entering his guilty plea with the court, his legal teams were apprised of the identity of the prosecutor’s eye witness when she took the stand at his sentencing hearing. She was referred to by local media as a surprise witness, as the defense had no time to investigate the validity of her statements. The hearing resulted in a life sentence with possible parole in 15 years.
Alexander’s lawyers soon found out why they were not given her name and statements. If her first statement to police, she claimed the attendant died in the gas station holding her hand. Yet her statements continued to change. She also stated that she had known Alexander her whole life. It was these discrepancies and the pressure Alexander felt to take a plea that Rabil decided to take up the case.
Why is the judge stopping the testing from going forward?
The judge, in this case, stated that DNA on the shell casings would not show who actually shot the manager and that the test, in fact, would be useless. Attorneys at the innocence project disagree. They have said that even though it would not show who pulled the trigger, it would let them know who loaded the gun. This could possibly lead them to someone at the scene that was not originally investigated.
While DNA testing can change the game for many cases, it takes the perseverance and experience of a trained attorney to allow the testing to move forward and present it in court. If you are facing charges, you need an attorney who will persevere to help you present the evidence you need to help you achieve the best outcome for your case.