Virginia reevaluates DNA evidence in 375 cases By Mary Pat Flaherty, July 17, 2011
Just over two years ago, William and Cynthia Bennett were viciously attacked as they went for a Sunday morning stroll. William Bennett was beaten to death, his wife brutally assaulted.
Loudoun County prosecutors handling the high-profile case say DNA on a wrapper found near the crime scene points to a man they accused of capital murder and assault: Darwin Bowman. The odds, they say, of randomly finding someone that fits that same genetic profile: 1 in 620,000.
But now, Bowman’s defense attorneys are demanding more information about those numbers and will air their complaints at a hearing next month.
Bowman’s case is among the first that could be affected by the Virginia Department of Forensic Science’s decision to reevaluate DNA evidence tested since 2010 in 375 cases.
All of the cases involved a mixture of DNA, perhaps from a victim, a perpetrator and other people. But the analysis of those samples didn’t include a step — about how to factor weak results — which national experts early last year advised is crucial to producing reliable odds.
“Once we saw that guideline, we decided it was the right thing to do, to go back on these cases,” said Brad Jenkins, the department’s biology program manager.
Some of the 375 cases have already been through court; others are pending or under investigation.
The crime lab will not repeat the tests that teased out the DNA. Rather, it is changing how it concludes what the traits convey about who was at a crime scene.
Instead of reporting the odds of finding the same traits among the population, the lab will report on how much more likely it is that the mixture includes DNA from the victim and the suspect than from the victim and someone else in the general population.
State officials said they expect to get “comparable outcomes” in most of the 375 go-backs. “But it’s a case-by-case review, and in some instances, there could be a big difference. We won’t know until we do it,” Jenkins said.
The lab will switch to a different statistical approach, approved by national experts, to determine population statistics for DNA mixtures. That change will enable more of the genetic traits that surface to be included in calculations.
A private company is running the recalculations until the state lab can get its own software, standards and procedures in place, which Jenkins said he expects to be this fall.
Virginia’s state lab said in a one-page notice in April that the lab would directly contact prosecutors about cases that could be affected by the new calculations. The lab also intends to share revisions with defense lawyers handling post-conviction cases, said Stephanie Merritt, counsel to the state lab.
The recommendations from national experts are driving the reassessment at Virginia’s crime lab and others regionally and nationwide. Those experts, who meet under the guidance of the FBI, have worked since 2007 on devising guidelines for analyzing DNA mixtures.
That kind of evidence is not a large part of most labs’ work. The 375 Virginia cases came from a pool of 6,000 tested in the same period, lab records show.
Families feel the death penalty, too By JONATHAN HUNLEY Published: September 05, 2010 PRINCE WILLIAM COUNTY, Va. - Terri Steinberg was frustrated. It seemed like she wasn’t going to get to see her... more
Justin Wolfe's mother hopes 11-year ordeal is nearing an end By: KEITH WALKER | InsideNova Published: May 22, 2012 FAIRFAX, Va. -- After 11 years, Terri Steinberg finally has reason to hope that her... more
For Immediate Release: August 16, 2012 CONTACT: Margot Friedman at 202-332-5550 firstname.lastname@example.org U.S. COURT OF APPEALS VACATES CONVICTION AND DEATH SENTENCE OF JUSTIN WOLFE... more
Wolfe Appeal Granted, Conviction Vacated Chantilly man was on death row for a decade; triggerman recanted testimony against Wolfe. By Dusty Smith | July 12, 2011 Justin Michael Wolfe’s conviction and ... more
Murder Conviction Most Foul What Justin Wolfe's case in Virginia tells us about death row cases everywhere. By Dahlia Lithwick Posted Thursday, July 14, 2011, at 4:42 PM ET Almost 10 years ago,... more
Virginia to appeal ruling that tossed ‘02 death sentence in drug dealer’s murder-for-hire plot By Associated Press, Published: August 8 RICHMOND, Va. — The Virginia Attorney General’s office plans to ... more
U.S. judge overturns Culpeper capital murder conviction By: FRANK GREEN | The Daily Progress Published: February 29, 2012 Citing police and prosecutorial misconduct, a federal judge has tossed out a... more
Ex-judges, prosecutors backing Va. death row inmate Justin Wolfe Justin Wolfe has been on death row since 2002, convicted in a murder-for-hire case involving a high-end northern Virginia drug ring.... more
Another Death-Row Victory for Wolfe Federal judge vacates murder and drug convictions, plus sentences. By Bonnie Hobbs Sunday, August 26, 2012 #Centreville — Message from the court system to Prince... more
Criminal Defense Attorney Thomas Soldan On Latest Development In Justin Wolfe Case PRWeb Defense Attorneys Ask For Immediate Release. (PRWEB) November 23, 2012 A high-profile death row case (Case No. ... more
Va. judge orders release of capital murder defendant by Thursday unless appeals court steps in By Associated Press, Updated: Wednesday, January 2, 2:03 PM MANASSAS, Va. — A Virginia judge has ordered ... more
Appeals court blocks Wolfe's release Posted: Thursday, January 3, 2013 4:36 pm | Updated: 6:02 pm, Thu Jan 3, 2013. BY FRANK GREEN Richmond Times-Dispatch A federal appeals court blocked the release... more
Va. won't appeal decision vacating death sentence Justin Wolfe could become the first wrongfully convicted inmate freed from Virginia's death row since DNA evidence cleared Earl Washington in 2000.... more
Despite Vacated Conviction, Death Row Inmate May Still Serve Decades Even without murder charges, Justin Wolfe faces 20 years—while dealers up the chain now walk free. • By Dusty Smith • July 20,... more
Virginia reevaluates DNA evidence in 375 cases Petra.,Mon Jul 18 12:38