Friday, December 16, 2005

The Only Morally Acceptable Course

After recent exonerations from DNA testing in decades old convictions, Gov. Warner ordered a sweeping review of thousands of cases to determine if new DNA evidence would produce more wrongly convicted Virginians. The Washington Post has more on this story.

RICHMOND, Dec. 14 -- Newly tested DNA from rapes committed more than 20 years ago has exonerated two Virginians who had each spent more than a decade behind bars, reigniting a national debate about post-conviction testing of biological evidence.

Gov. Mark R. Warner (D) announced the test results Wednesday. One of the defendants served 20 years in prison for a rape in Alexandria that the new testing shows he did not commit. The other man was released in 1992 after serving about 11 years for an assault in Norfolk. The governor did not reveal the names of the exonerated men because they had requested privacy. Warner said the discovery of two innocent men among the 31 newly examined cases compels an even more sweeping review. He ordered that 660 boxes containing thousands of files from 1973 through 1988 be examined for cases that can be retested using the latest DNA technology. There is no estimate on how long that would take or how much it would cost.

"I believe a look back at these retained case files is the only morally acceptable course, and what truth they can bring only bolsters confidence in our system," Warner said in a statement. Warner's order stems from the accidental discovery in 2001 of a treasure trove of evidence, including some aging biological samples, stapled to the yellowing case files of a former analyst in Virginia's state-run forensics lab. It is not clear why the analyst, who is dead, had meticulously preserved the evidence in the days before DNA tests existed.

Prosecutors in Alexandria and Norfolk have requested that the governor issue complete pardons in both cases. Read more:

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