Thursday, September 25, 2008

DNA Testing Confirms Conviction For 1984 Dallas Rape

From the Dallas Morning News:

District Attorney Craig Watkins says DNA testing "works both ways" in Dallas County, as shown by a rape conviction affirmed Monday.

Post-conviction DNA tests requested by Hilton Lee Wheeler have proved he committed a 1984 Dallas rape for which he's already serving life in prison.

Because many people assume that someone rightfully convicted would never request to have the DNA evidence in their case reviewed it is important that this DNA test result be as well publicized as it would be if this analysis led to an exoneration.

This isn't the first such result where newly processed DNA evidence confirmed a convict's guilt and disproved that convict's claim of wrongful conviction.

But the number of these confirmed convictions wasn't mentioned in the article on this case. I haven't seen that number mentioned in any article I've read about inmates claims of innocence. However, when I read an article on exonerations I almost always get an exact list of the number of DNA exonerations.

The organizations which speak up whenever a DNA test exonerates someone tend to be quiet when the same type of test confirms guilt. I can understand why those focused on innocence don't spend much time talking about the guilt of someone who claimed that DNA would prove his innocence. While I understand this silence, I think it contributes to dangerous assumptions about the guilt or innocence of those convicted of violent crimes.

If that organization passionately championed that guilty person and predicted that the DNA evidence would prove innocence because the non-DNA evidence couldn't be right, it could be embarrassing for an organization to admit that it had been fooled by a violent criminal. So instead of saying the organization was wrong it is easier to act like the DNA testing never happened.

Having taken many statistics classes on my way to getting a math minor, I understand the danger of excluding data because someone doesn't think it is relevant.

The 1986 Challenger space shuttle explosion due to O-ring failure is an example of the danger of looking at risk using a restricted data set. The danger of cold weather lauches would have been obvious if the data from the launches where there were zero O-ring failures hadn't been omitted.

If when we look at wrongful convictions we omit all the data on known rightful convictions or questionable exonerations (DNA at murder scene might not be from real murderer or the DNA might be from an accomplice), the resulting actions can be deadly. A murderer who masterfully plays the part of someone wrongfully convicted can be freed (through overturned conviction , pardon or commuted sentence) which allows that murderer to strike again.

The goal should be to find whatever identifying information forensics can provide, assess that information properly in relation to other evidence, and highlight that resulting evidence no matter what it turns out to be.

If the goal is determining the truth of old cases, then we must also look at cold cases seeking the truth behind those cases. Since Dallas preserved their physical evidence, analysis of unsolved cases has identified men who cannot be prosecuted because the statute of limitations for rape in Texas was only 5 years until 1996 when it was eliminated.

Many people who resist eliminating the statute of limitations for rape in other states do so in the name of protecting the rights of the innocent while forgetting that rape victims are innocent and that future victims who could have been protected if it weren't for the statute of limitations are also innocent.

When this goal of putting all of the truth out there about old cases isn't met, many people could make the faulty assumption that if a convict asks for a review of DNA evidence, but none can subsequently be found, that the convict was wrongfully convicted and only lacks the evidence to prove it.

Wrongful charges in non-murder cases aren't limited to rape cases, they can also happen when the crime is robbery. And wrongful charges can be made against rape victims who are coerced into recanting.

This second type of wrongful charge against crime victims is why I have a problem with innocence reforms that only look at the problems from one perspective. Some innocence reforms may do nothing to protect those wrongly accused of violent crime while doing plenty to provide cover to those who are rightfully accused and those who treat some crime victims with less respect than they give the most violent criminal prior to conviction because they incorrectly view those crime victims as agents of injustice.

Among those seeking DNA analysis is Ohio death row inmate Richard Cooey who is scheduled to be executed next month.

Richard Cooey said an accomplice killed the University of Akron students 22 years ago. ''Yeah, I did kidnappings, robberies and other stuff [rapes] in my case,'' Cooey said this week in a death-row interview given to the state legislative reporters' association. ''I didn't do no murders in my case. And they know I didn't do the murders in my case.'' [...]

He also said he never confessed to an unrelated killing, but was misunderstood by a prison guard.

Cooey's admissions of what he is undeniably guilty of are a stark contrast to the image those claiming to be wrongfully convicted are trying to put forth. From the description of the elements of the crime he admits, Cooey was no innocent bystander to this double murder even if he didn't land the killing blows.

If the blood found on Cooey's shoe and the blood found in his car don't match the 2 murder victims, that likely means that blood belongs to another murder victim. So while he might be able to cast doubt on some of the evidence used to convict him, he is in no way innocent.

And of course when an undeniable DNA match is found, the person convicted can claim that match is meaningless as demonstrated by the appeal on behalf of Jeffrey Lynn Smith in Wyoming.

Lawyer Michael H. Reese, representing Smith, argued Thursday that trial judge Keith G. Kautz of Natrona County violated Smith's rights when he limited Smith's original defense lawyer from presenting information about other people police had suspected in the case."

This is literally a cold case that took 20 years to develop," Reese told the court. Reese said Smith has never confessed in the Dively case and always maintained his innocence.

Reese said the DNA evidence proves only that Smith and Dively had sex, not that he killed her. He argued it violated Smith's constitutional rights for a prosecutor to tell the jury that he had refused to take a DNA test. [...]

Graham Smith told the justices that defendant Smith had repeatedly denied to investigators that he had known Dively."Despite his repeated denials of ever having known Ms. Dively, the sperm that was in her body was a positive match to the appellant's," Graham Smith said.

Not confessing and always maintaining his innocence even after conviction are proof of nothing as the DNA match for Hilton Lee Wheeler shows. But those who are only aware of successful exonerations may not know this.

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posted by Marcella Chester @ 9:43 AM   3 comments links to this post


At September 26, 2008 5:26 PM, Anonymous m Andrea said...

Been thinking for awhile now that the "innocence project" has very little to do with innocence and everything to do with projecting the allusion that every man is falsly accused of rape.

They fail to explain that they only have to prove improper legal procedure -- they do not actually have to prove the man's innocence.

Without a BIG disclaimer to that effect or providing the number of their investigations which are upheld as "real" rape or a comparison of total number of rapes committed within the population, they create far more injustice to women as a class then what they provide to one individual man.

The Innocence Project is run by lawyers, they completely understand that lie by ommision, and far too smart for that ommision to be an accident. They hate women, and they hide their hatred of women under the guise of protecting one "improperly" convicted man.

You are being too easy on these bastards, Marcella. Men always claim that feminists "aren't being fair" whenever we point out the truth, but we have to practically hog-tie these assholes and hound them for years before they will admit the least little thing when fairness for women is involved.

Their pattern of avoidence is proof they hate women and I'm tired of pretending. If they were as honest and fair as they claim, then they would just simply and quickly admit the problem.

At October 03, 2008 8:53 AM, Blogger Gritsforbreakfast said...

Marcella, you seem to be blaming lawyers for zealously representing their clients, which is why this assessment, IMO, is completely bogus:

"If that organization passionately championed that guilty person and predicted that the DNA evidence would prove innocence because the non-DNA evidence couldn't be right, it could be embarrassing for an organization to admit that it had been fooled by a violent criminal. So instead of saying the organization was wrong it is easier to act like the DNA testing never happened."

I'm a policy consultant for the Innocence Project of Texas (not an attorney) and I've NEVER heard an innocence project lawyer, ever, once, predict "that the DNA evidence would prove innocence." Instead, they make arguments about what the test COULD prove depending on how it turns out.

Most convicted people who request DNA tests turn out to be guilty, and I've never heard anybody say otherwise. In Dallas, they've gone through hundreds of requests for DNA testing to find 19 exonerations and that fact has been widely reported, despite your erroneous claim to the contrary. Even so, in most jurisdictions prosecutors fight all DNA testing in old cases tooth and nail because they don't want to find those innocent needles in the haystack.

Frankly, you're the ONLY source I've seen claiming some innocence project attorney, somewhere (who you don't quote), said they knew ahead of time what DNA evidence would prove. Please name one case where an innocence project lawyer claimed innocence prematurely. I don't think you can cite a single example. That's just not how the system works.

It's false and wrong portray the innocence project movment as anti-rape survivor. E.g., I'm betting Michelle Mallin would disagree with you.

It's just an unfortunate fact that rape cases are usually the only ones with old biological evidence available to test so most DNA exonerations discredit old rape convictions. Lots of convictions in other types of cases are obtained using the same flawed tactics - unscientific lineup procedures, jailhouse snitches, withholding exculpatory evidence. Everyone in the system should have a vested interest in convicting the right person. It's counterproductive to get defensive when the justice system corrects its mistakes. When the wrong person is convicted, after all, the real rapist is still out there.

At October 03, 2008 10:53 AM, Blogger Marcella Chester said...


First, you demonstrate exactly what I was talking about in your closing. "It's counterproductive to get defensive when the justice system corrects its mistakes."

This implies that the innocence project movement fixes the justice system when it only fixes some of the justice system's mistakes and only from the POV of the defendant. It also implies that there cannot be any errors injected into the legal justice system such as freeing someone who was rightfully convicted.

I'm not being defensive or blaming lawyers for zealously representing their clients, I'm blaming them for presenting this to the public, directly or through implication, as an objective effort at getting to the truth of old cases.

Lawyers don't need to claim that the DNA evidence they seek will absolutely prove their clients innocence to imply that this is the case. It's understandable why this implication would be made since that is more compelling than explaining that you are looking in case this is the needle in a haystack.

The idea that innocence projects are objective truth agencies implies that the results will be publicized equally if the convict is exonerated or if the convict's guilt is put into doubt or if the jury verdict is proven to be correct.

You may know that most people who request DNA tests turn out to be guilty, but the general public doesn't know this and part of the reason they don't know this is the way innocence projects present information to the media.

The media also helps people believe that most convicts who request DNA tests are innocent because a story about the confirmation of a convict's guilt is not dramatic.

I'm not portraying the innocence project as anti-rape survivor. I do have a problem that the innocence movement helps innocence to get marketed in a way that makes "the innocent" interchangable with "the innocent defendant/convict."

There are many innocent people harmed by the criminal justice system who haven't been defendants or who are wrongfully accused defendants on charges of filing a false police report.

Many of the systemic problems like coerced confessions and sloppy investigations harm all those who are innocent, not just innocent defendants.

Unfortunately, when most who focus on defendant's rights talk about confessions they seem unaware that crime victims can be coerced into recanting. This has a practical effect of being anti-rape survivor since this injustice goes unmentioned.

What I am doing is pointing out that there are harmful side effects of this movement's tight focus which many of those in the innocence project movement don't care about or don't think about.

If the goal is to ensure that justice has been done in old cases -- for all -- then the innocence project movement at most deals with only one side of injustice.

Organizations set up to protect children from sexual predators can suffer from the same type of tunnel vision. I consider most of the residency restriction laws which are currently popular to be unjust and totally ineffective at reaching the stated goal of these laws.


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