Mississippi Moves Toward First DNA Exoneration


I'll go out on a limb, here, and predict it's the first of many:

Attorneys for Arthur Johnson believe they will win his release from prison after a Sunflower County judge hears new DNA evidence they say clears Johnson of the crime of rape.

The Mississippi Supreme Court on Jan. 4 cleared the way for Johnson to argue for his freedom based on DNA tests that he alleges show he did not rape a woman in Sunflower County.

Johnson was convicted in 1993 of rape and burglary and was sentenced to 55 years in prison. The state Court of Appeals upheld his conviction in 1995.

Emily Maw, an attorney for Innocence Project New Orleans, said no physical evidence linked Johnson to the crime and his conviction was based on the victim's identification of him as her attacker.

In August 2005, Circuit Judge Ashley Hines ordered the evidence in the rape kit to be tested by ReliaGene Technologies in New Orleans. After delays due to Hurricane Katrina, ReliaGene completed the testing late in 2007.

Maw said the testing excluded Johnson as the source of the seminal fluid collected from the underwear worn by the victim when she was raped.

"This DNA testing proves that Arthur Johnson was telling the truth when he claimed, from the beginning, that he is innocent of this charge," she said in a statement Friday.

Now that the state has its own Innocence Project, expect to see more of these. The major barrier will be fact that prosecutors in Mississippi have a habit of destroying case files after a defendant has exhausted his appeals. One of Tucker Carington's first objectives as director of the new project is to push a bill through the state legislature requiring prosecutors to preserve the biological evidence in these cases.