Criminal Justice

Prosecutor Unimpressed by Fancy-Schmancy DNA Tests; He'll Stick With Hunches

|

Michael Mermel, chief of the criminal division for the Lake County, Illinois state's attorney's office, is rather unimpressed by the value of exonerating DNA evidence, especially when it conflicts with good ol' eyewitness testimony, confessions, even bite-mark evidence.

For example, six years ago, Mermel dismissed DNA tests showing that the semen found in the underwear of a 68-year rape victim didn't belong to the man convicted of the crime.  Bernie Starks had been serving time for the rape since 1986.  Now if the DNA had come from the woman's vagina, Mermel argued at the time, "I would be standing over there advocating the side that the defense has in the case." 

Actually, no he wouldn't.  Three years later, a missing rape kit from the case turned up.  It included a vaginal swab containing semen, and a DNA test on the semen again excluded the man convicted of the crime.  Mermel again refused to concede, this time arguing that the woman must have had consensual sex with another man at about the same time of the rape.

When DNA testing on an 11-year-old rape and murder victim excluded his suspect, Mermel said the more likely explanation there too was that the girl had been sexually active—not that he could possibly be charging the wrong guy.

But this one beats all:

And, just recently, when lawyers for the man charged in the killing of his 8-year-old daughter and her 9-year-old friend said in court that DNA evidence from semen excluded him as the perpetrator, the Lake prosecutor had another explanation.

Mermel said DNA may have gotten inside the 8-year-old's body as she played in the woods at what became the crime scene—a place where Mermel said some couples go to have sex. The girl was found fully clothed.

That's some mighty potent semen.

NEXT: Howard Dean: "We Cannot Continue to Spend 16 Percent of Our GNP on Health Care. Period."

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. This should be a question on the Bar:

    DNA, trust it or not?

    Use it as a screening question, along with:

    Arrange these offenses in order of seriousness –

    Murdered a Guy
    Found a Joint in the Sock Drawer
    Flipped off a Cop
    Looked at Dirty Pictures of Gay Folk
    Stole a Candy Bar
    Stole a Retirement Fund
    Ignored Crucial Exonerating Evidence in a Trial

  2. Does Mermel even give a shit that the real killer is still out there?

    I guess as long as the real killer is active, there will be more opportunities for Mermel to prosecute the first guy he finds.

  3. A truly astounding level of corruption because nobody could possibly be that stupid.

  4. My semen can make me scrambled eggs in the morning, why shouldn’t it penetrate layers of clothing?

  5. Bernie starks

    Is that his last name?

  6. +1 Doktor T.

    ktc2: maybe. maybe not. look at all those quibbletards who like creationism…

  7. Is everything out of Illinois all seriously no holds barred fucked up?

  8. If Mermel’s wife ever gets pregnant when he’s been out of town for a while, she’ll have no trouble explaining it.

  9. So, can we privatize law enforcement yet?

  10. I think one problem is that we don’t really have a good methodology for dealing with post-hoc exonerations of convicted defendants.

    It’s not really what the appeals process is for, for one thing.

    It’s too dependent on the very professionals who secured the original incorrect conviction, in the second place.

    Any child can see that this guy has personal and/or institutional reasons to oppose exonerations, no matter the evidence, and is willing to concoct absurd rationalizations to continue to justify the original convictions obtained by his office. In the interest of justice, some sort of state-level office should exist to process extraordinary exoneration claims in a manner that excludes the original prosecutors – because original prosecutors have too great a vested interest in concealing incompetence in their offices, in supporting wrongheaded local law enforcement efforts, or in plain old dick-swinging over their conviction rate, to be trusted to be part of the process of checking their own work.

  11. Is everything out of Illinois all seriously no holds barred fucked up?

    It seems so lately, doesn’t it?

    Fluffy is right on the money. It’s insane to have the people who are responsible for the wrong conviction in the first place as the people who are supposed to fix it. Because they won’t.

  12. It seems so lately, doesn’t it?

    Lately?!? How long has a Daley been mayor? And to be bi-partisan, it wasnt that recently that a certain GOP speaker of the house called the constitution an anachronism.

  13. Illinois is the new Florida.

  14. How long has a Daley been mayor?

    About 40+ years, right?

  15. Illinois is the new Florida.

    No Illinois has always been Illinois. Florida can’t compare to the century of open corruption that Illinois is. Most of the time you don’t hear about it because nobody cares enough. In Illinois they know they can keep coming back to pick your pocket as long as the garbage keeps getting picked up.

  16. Illinois is the new Florida.

    Very funny. Except that Florida is one of the least corrupt states while Illinois has always been one of the most corrupt.

  17. Maybe we should switch to “Illinois is the New Jersey of the Midwest”.

  18. It’s insane to have the people who are responsible for the wrong conviction in the first place as the people who are supposed to fix it. Because they won’t.

    Nonsense! Why, we have internal investigations all the time! They always get to truth. And by “get to the truth”, I mean completely exonerating ourselves from any mistakes or wrongdoing. Because we’re the cops. Suck it, civilian.


  19. I think one problem is that we don’t really have a good methodology for dealing with post-hoc exonerations of convicted defendants.

    It’s not really what the appeals process is for, for one thing.

    It’s too dependent on the very professionals who secured the original incorrect conviction, in the second place.

    I agree.

    The original prosecutors, judges, police officers, etc SHOULD BE EXCLUDED from any APPEAL PROCESS. They prove to be a BUNCH of ASSHOLES who can care less about an innocent defendant and DON’T WANT to LOOK STUPID when proven wrong.

  20. Unrepentant morans like Mermel need to be publicly outed with large billboards in prominent locations throughout the muncipality.

    Black background, large picture of the person on the left of the sign and a simple statement in white block text of THIS MAN IS AN IDIOT on the right, with a short, easy to remember URL people can go to for more info.

    Five or 6 of these and eventually the message gets out. I would give financial support to this cause.

  21. The judge on this case can always dismiss it on his own motion, you know.

    Which, if I were the judge, I would. I’d probably take a half a day first to write up the very best ass-chewing of the DA that I could manage, and read it out in open court after giving a couple of my reporter buddies a heads up.

  22. I believe the judges in Illinois are elected. They know which side their bread is buttered.

  23. People,, people, please. Illinois is the Louisiana of the North.

  24. I want to take Occam’s Razor and pound it into tha guy’s skull.

  25. Florida gets weird transplants from other places. Our government, however, is one of the best in the country (not saying all that much, of course). Here I sit not paying any income tax to my state, for instance. And I can own my own nuclear weapon.

  26. I want to take Occam’s Razor and pound it into tha guy’s skull.

    “You know what the chain of command is? It’s the chain I get and beat you with ’till you learn who’s in ruttin’ command here!”

  27. Any child can see that this guy has personal and/or institutional reasons to oppose exonerations, no matter the evidence, and is willing to concoct absurd rationalizations to continue to justify the original convictions obtained by his office.

    Maybe the lessons I was taught about owning up to your mistakes, to try to make things right after I did something wrong, intentional or not, disqualifies me from a position in law enforcement.

    Jesus H. McCrist, Michael Mermel, how can you look in the mirror without fucking retching?

    Hey Lisa Madigan, you ain’t fired this dissembling fucking asshole douchebag yet? What the hell is wrong with your moral compass?

    Fuck, fuck and goddamit fuck!

    Illinois, Mississippi of the Great Lakes Basin.

  28. LMNOP
    Are you familiar with the works of Shan Yu?

  29. Jesus H. McCrist, Michael Mermel, how can you look in the mirror without fucking retching?

    Pop psych warning!

    You see this kind of thing anytime someone does some investigative reporting on DNA exonerations.
    Someone called it the theory of the “Unindited co-ejaculater”.

    I have sometimes wondered if there isn’t some kind of defense mechanism at work here: deny the slightest possibility that you have put away the wrong guy so that you don’t have to live the responsibility.

    Then I come to my sense. I remember that these are politicians, so it is unlikely that they even have a sense of duty or responsibility.

  30. How do people like this not end up dead from outraged families of those wrongly convicted. I would be hard pressed to not want to crack this fuckers skull open with a lead pipe if he was doing this to a family member of mine. Coming to this site doesn’t make me feel like I need to be politically active it makes me feel like I need to be a vigilantee!

  31. Are you familiar with the works of Shan Yu?

    – Shepard, doesn’t the Bible have a few things to say about killing?

    “Indeed it does. It is, however, much fuzzier on the issue of kneecaps.”

  32. They don’t end up dead from families because the type of folks who get railroaded are losers without any real social support group, and are probably social outcasts in their town already.

    If you have a close knit family who believes you didn’t commit the crime, they’ll help with your defense (read: pay a lawyer) and it would be almost impossible for ass-hat prosecutors to get away with this stuff during trial. Although as commenters have already pointed out, it’s criminally easy to sweep exonerating evidence under the rug when it comes to light post-conviction.

    I suspect the defendant in the most recent case mentioned will get off because he seems to have moderately competant counsel and because the initial trial is still ongoing.

  33. Where the heck is the Attorney General of Illinois? One of the AG’s job is to protect the citizens of the state from injustices perpetrated by public officials. Mermel deserves every bit as much attention as Gov. Blago.

  34. Guy1138 – exactly. When there’s a rape or murder that needs prosecuting and there’s no ready suspects, find the nearest loner/loser/outcast to the scene of the crime and start building a case. It’s like in Our Man in Havana: there’s a torturable class and a non-torturable class. The former is unaware of the distinction while the latter can never for a moment forget.

  35. Got that backwards, oof. Should read: there’s a torturable class and a non-torturable class. The latter is unaware of the distinction while the former can never for a moment forget.

  36. Even with the support of family it can be hard to overcome the advantage the state has in these cases.
    The Duke lacrosse players had family support and lots of money, and still had a very hard time. Most folks would have been SOL.

    The rage at what has been done is balanced by the fear of going back to jail. If you act on your rage the system will kill you or put you right back into the nightmare, with the added bonus of smugly saying ‘see, we were right all along’

  37. I really don’t see how it is possible for this guy to not be convicted of prosecutorial misconduct for things like this. It is so obvious that this guy’s explanations are bullshit.

    Even if a rape victim had consensual sex with someone else shortly before the rape, one would still expect to find DNA from 2 people, one of whom would be the rapist (barring the use of a condom or something). They should ask the victim who she had consensual sex with, and then use the other guy’s DNA to match with suspects. If they only had one person’s semen in the rape kit, and it was not the guy they convicted, then on what basis are they saying he was the rapist?

    And the theory about the 8-year-old girl playing in the woods in a manner where she gets leftover semen on herself from a couple that had sex there earlier – does he even care how implausible that sounds?

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.