Criminal Justice

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.

Advertisement

NEXT: But Whatever You Do, Don't Legalize It

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Eyewitness identification of strangers is one of the most unreliable forms of evidence there is, yet is considered by juries one of the most reliable ones.

    What jury would fail to be moved, when a sobbing woman points to the defendant and says, “that’s the man who did this to me!”?

    It’s not malicious either: our brains are designed for pattern recognition in the face of partial or incomplete data. Our brains routinely fill in missing details from alternate sources, including the testimony of others and the sight of something similar later.

    So a defendant who merely shares a set of eyes very similar to the missing attacker can find himself confronting an accuser whose brain has substituted his face for that of her attacker in her memory. In a way so-called circumstantial evidence is more reliable than direct testimony.

  2. tarran, agree, who are malicious is the prosecutors who know this but still relentlessly go after innocent people just to get a conviction and raise their profile…

  3. I am hearing that some DNA evidence is coming to play in the West Memphis Three saga. From all of the evidence I have seen so far, it seems that these three men were railroaded.

  4. This is why the war on some drugs is so vigorously supported by law enforcement. Murder and rape cases are hard to solve and prosecute and the margin for error is small or the prep walks.

    The war on some drugs allow law enforcement more freedom in planting “evidence” and making busts on people who physically possess evidence, hence the no-knock raid. It is hard to do a no knock raid on a murder case.

  5. prep=perp

  6. Radley, keep up the good work! It can’t that hard to turn the American South into the civilized place it has come so damn close to already being, dammit, but obviously it still needs a little pushing and prodding.

  7. Oops, left out a verb in my excitement. But I trust that all can fill it in. 😉

  8. 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.

    What? Two years? No one else could do it?

  9. LarryA,

    Yeah, that’s what I was gonna say. Johnson should be compensated for this delay (not to mention sheer incompetence).

  10. Radley,

    Missed you last night. Had to light cigars using fiat money with Ron.

  11. Are you saying that after all these decades and all this publicity, there still has yet to be a single Death Row exoneration by DNA? Wow! That’s amazing considering all the hype…

  12. Sorry, I guess this isn’t a Death Row case anyway.

    So, has there yet been a Death Row exoneration by DNA anywhere in America?

  13. So, has there yet been a Death Row exoneration by DNA anywhere in America?

    Many.

  14. Steve,

    The Innocence project alone has paid for testing that exonerated 15 inmates on Death Row.

    You can browse their case files here:
    http://www.innocenceproject.org/results.php?cx=013436971191598461915%3Aiswe56dip9w&q=death+row&sa.x=0&sa.y=0&sa=Search&cof=FORID%3A11

    And that’s just cases where there was evidence to test and a court willing to permit the testing to go forward.

  15. It’s the first in Mississippi, which I would think you’d have deduced from the rest of the post. It’s the first in Mississippi because prosecutors in the state tend to destroy case files after they win prosecutions. That, and it’s one of the few states that has yet to pass a law allowing defendants to ask for DNA testing to prove their innocence.

    There have been at least 15 DNA Death Row exonerations, and more than 120 total Death Row exonerations since 1973.

  16. Hey, don’t bother Steve Sailer with facts. He knows niggers are always guilty.

  17. They should find the jurors in these cases and let them know they sent an innocent man to jail.

  18. The people convicted should find the jurors who convicted them and kill them.

  19. Totally, that’ll show those bastards that they’re not killers.

  20. Hey Steve, there’s this fancy new thing out there called “Google.”

    Might want to look into it.

    It could possibly keep you from looking like a bigger asshole than you already are.

  21. The New York Times has been running a feature very recently tracking all of the incarcerated men being released because DNA has finally proved their innocence. Last time I looked their website (it also runs a video of some of their comments–one man served 27 years for a crime he did not commit), more than 200 men had been released since ’01, several from Death Row and also from rape or molestation charges. In the capital crime convictions, the prosecution often had eye-witness testimony which DNA tests proved conclusively years later was entirely wrong. One incarcerated, innocent man made the front page of the NY Times as he left prison, accused and successfully prosecuted for “molestation.”

    One of the BIG problems with this, is the innocent man cooperating with the prosecution. Of course, as an innocent man, he “wants” to cooperate; but then, his cooperation is used against him in court, just as his refusal to cooperate would be used aganst him. Either way, he loses, which is close to the classic ‘prisoner’s dilemma’ of philosophy.

    If the prosecution has a case, great, make it! But with the DNA release of hundreds of wrongly-convicted innocent men, if the prosecution needs the defendent to make its case, what should any defendent–including especially the innocent–do but claim their 5th Amendment rights and tell the prosecution during ‘discovery,’ “F—Off, make your case without me making it for you.”

  22. Hey, don’t bother Steve Sailer with facts. He knows niggers are always guilty.

    Where all the white women at?

  23. A couple of questions that popped into my head, I dont know if any of you have the answer, but if you do, please share:

    1. I assume (with rare exceptions of idiocy) that these kind of cases arent being prosecuted anymore? For example, if these case occurred today, it never would have gone to trial with the non-matching dna. Right?

    2. Just out of curiosity how often does the Innocence Project run a sample and pretty much validate the verdict? I dont know how they go about filtering thru the cases to determine which to test, so maybe they have a pretty good idea who is innocent/guilty in advance. But surely it has happened. Do they announce those results?

  24. EPISIARCH:

    YOU HARE HEREBY UNDER ARREST FOR THE CRIME OF CATTLE RUSTLING THROUGH THE VATICAN.

    “The major barrier will be fact that prosecutors in Mississippi have a habit of destroying case files after a defendant has exhausted his appeals”

    that is absolutely incredible.

  25. Hey Steve, there’s this fancy new thing out there called “Google.”

    Might want to look into it.

    It could possibly keep you from looking like a bigger asshole than you already are.

    And if you happenb to have luddite tendencies, there are still some old fashioned products around commomnly called “newspapers”. There might even be one or more available in your town.

  26. 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.

    Maybe he wore a condom. See related post below. The “exotic dancer” of Duke lacrosse fame had seminal fluid from at least two men in her undies. So she either got around or wasn’t fastidious about her panty rotation. Anyway, I’m just killing time till the liquor store opens. Carry on.

  27. then again:

    your observation might be relevant if:

    the victim had reported condom use by her attacker
    the victim had reported being attacked by more than one man (iow, where did the seminal fluid in her underwear come from?)

  28. Since the Steve Sailer in this thread’s comments is the same Steve Sailer whose blog is linked to in “The Friday Political Thread: Gay Pedophiles and Tears Edition” post, I have to ask, why should I pay attention to what he blogs about?

    Sorry it took me so long to make the connection, but hey, I’m trying to solve all of the world’s problems concurrently with reading H&R. 😉

  29. I hope Mr. Johnson is exonerated, but this IS Mississippi after all:

    Johnson’s Attorney: “…and this irrefutable DNA evidence shows that my client did not commit this rape. The defense rests.”

    Judge [Looking bored]: “Mr. District Attorney?”

    DA: “Your honor, I’ma sure our fine Jew-boy consul fur the dee-fense has all that thar dandyfied sci-en-tific ev-i-dence from some godless commie librul out overturn our entire criminal just-us system. But the fact of the matter still remains that THAT MAN [points to the defendent] IS A NIGGER!!!”

    Judge [Wrapping gavel] “I’ve ‘eard enough! This ‘ere evidence is in-ad-misable on the grounds that it let a filthy nigger out on our streets to sell dope to our good white children an’ rape our fine white women. Mr. Bailiff, take this ‘ere coon back to death row!”

    [The all-white Courtroom audience erupts with rebel yells and exclamations that “tha South will rise agin’!”]

  30. why should I pay attention to what he blogs about?

    because you enjoy the fine sport of laughing at fuckfaces?

  31. because you enjoy the fine sport of laughing at fuckfaces?

    Well, I was being somewhat polite. Of note is he has blogged on the death penalty here less than 2 months ago, and here, June 2006.

    Google death penaly, take a look. Ya kinda think if you’re gonna blog about something you might do at least that much “research”. Death penalty DNA exhonerations? First he’s heard of it. That’s a megacripes, if ever I’ve heard one.

  32. I’ve decided that exonerees should be able to sue for damages not just from the state, but also to collect from the prosecutor, judge, and jury that convicted them.

    Think about it: It would create a strong incentive for prosecutors to only prosecute when there was strong evidence, for the judge to ensure the trial was fair, and for jurors to very carefully consider reasonable doubt…

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.