Saturday, November 25, 2006

DNA clears man after police lab refused to conduct tests.

In a story out of Chicago today, DNA has cleared a man who obtained the test after a police lab's refusal to carry it out.

CHICAGO, Illinois (AP) -- Authorities are reviewing the conviction of a man imprisoned for a 1992 rape after he was cleared by DNA tests that the original lab analyst refused to conduct.

Marlon Pendleton's lawyers received the results of the new tests Wednesday and filed a motion seeking to vacate his conviction. Prosecutors were reviewing the case and Pendleton's conviction in another rape, said John Gorman, spokesman for State's Attorney Richard Devine.

A hearing was set for next Thursday.

"It was no surprise to me," Pendleton, 49, told the Chicago Tribune on Thursday in an interview at the Dixon Correctional Center. "I always knew I was innocent."

Pendleton demanded DNA testing after his arrest, but police lab analyst Pamela Fish said there wasn't enough genetic material to test the evidence. Pendleton was convicted based on the victim's identification.

The expert who conducted the new tests, Brian Wraxall of Serological Research Institute, said Wednesday he was surprised at Fish's report "because I found a reasonable amount of DNA."

Fish's work has been challenged in the past, most notably in the cases of four men later cleared by DNA evidence of the 1986 rape and murder of medical student Lori Roscetti.


Now it this case it does appear to largely be the misdeed of a rogue analyst who no longer works for police department.

However, this is disturbing-- if you were accused of a crime which you did not commit you would scream out that all evidence be examined. The idea that a lab analyst was apparently too lazy to carry out the test is disturbing, to say the least.

And it dovetails with another theme that we have seen sometimes in the past-- investigators, who whether for reasons of workload or for other reasons, have failed to follow up on leads in cases-- leads which have sometimes been the ones they should have followed up on. Sometimes in these cases the person who has been prosecuted and sent to prison was not even the person who was guilty and they have later been exhonerated.

If funding is the issue here, then we should fully fund investigations. If it is something else-- like failure to uphold the duty to get it right, then people who are responsible for these cases must themselves be held liable for the consequences of the dereliction of their duty (in civil court if no place else.)

3 comments:

Lammy said...

People keep saying the "system" is broken, but it usually turns out that the system is fine but the people who work in it are incompetent, lax, lazy, or let's their personal ideas and self interests rule them instead of following the rules.

Eli Blake said...

Lammy:

Good point. It was certainly the case here.

That said, I do have a problem with the system in that there is a strong correlation between what a person can pay for legal help, and the level of justice they can expect to receive. When you hear about a case like this, most often it involves a poor person, often with a public defender. If you are O.J., Michael Jackson or Robert Blake then clearly you don't have to worry about a slipshod case being manufactured against you because you can afford the lawyers to blow it out of the water.

shrimplate said...

"Justice is a commodity" is a point that I think can be derived from eli's response to lammy.

Yet another arrow in the rich man's quiver.

Fair trials are now unhinged from concerns for true justice. It has become market-driven. The best verdict is now the cheapest verdict. The rule of law has been downsized.