Cambridge, England — MY rape kit was created on the evening of Sunday, Jan. 12, 1992, at Magee-Womens Hospital in Pittsburgh. Tiny pieces of evidence were swabbed, plucked and combed from me: bits of me and, they hoped, bits of him, to be used in court one day to prove who had done this to me. Like many evidence kits collected at that time, it was not analyzed for DNA, and became part of what is called the backlog: untested rape kits across the country, which number at minimum in the tens of thousands.
I’ll never forget how lonely I felt when the jury announced its guilty verdict and the courtroom erupted in applause. I thought, how could this happen? It felt surreal, but soon after reality sunk in: I could spend the rest of my life in prison until the state of Maryland executed me. I spent eight years, 11 months and 19 days locked away — two of those years on death row — for a rape and murder that I did not commit, before post-conviction DNA testing proved my innocence.
Red states, blue states and Congress are all making it a priority. In Philadelphia… it’s complicated.
In 1988, Pitchfork admitted raping and murdering two 15-year-old girls, Lynda Mann and Dawn Ashworth, after his DNA matched samples found at the scene of both crimes.
The former baker was caught after the world’s first mass screening for DNA, in which 5,000 men in three villages in Leicestershire were asked to volunteer blood or saliva samples; he’d initially evaded capture by getting a friend to take the test for him.
Ray Krone was convicted of murder in Phoenix, Ariz., and sentenced to death. The key evidence used to convict him was the testimony of a certified forensic dentist who concluded that a bite mark on the deceased came from Krone. Ten years later (fortunately before he was executed), D.N.A. testing proved the dentist was wrong, cleared Krone and identified the real perpetrator, who was in prison for a subsequent sexual assault.
Checks of police department storage facilities often turn up hundreds, even thousands, of untested rape kits. Some of those kits contain saliva, semen, blood, hair and other DNA evidence taken from victims of recent sexual assaults. Others have been sitting on the shelves unopened for years without analysis or entry of any profiles into state and national databases. Each untested kit represents a botched chance to solve a case and identify other crimes perpetrated by an assailant.
Imagine spending 19 years in prison for a murder you did not commit. Imagine enduring the indignities of life behind bars, and missing out on the lives of your children and grandchildren, knowing that you are innocent. Imagine that while you sit in a cell, the real killer is somewhere out there, possibly destroying other lives.
In Cleveland, Ohio, a serial rapist and murderer was convicted of crimes last year that will keep him in prison for the rest of his life. His case made the headlines because his neighbor was Ariel Castro, the man who kept three young women hostage as sex slaves for years. Following Castro’s high-profile arrest, investigators began re-examining Cleveland’s cold cases and processing their backlog of untested sexual assault evidence kits, known as “rape kits.” One such rape kit, collected in 1993 but not tested until 2013, helped the FBI link Castro’s neighbor, Elias Acevedo Sr., to two murders and multiple rapes.
MIKE SILVERMAN goes after the guilty – it’s in his DNA. And it’s not just criminals who are brought to book by his finely honed forensic skills.
As one of the UK’s leading forensic scientists he has helped put murderers, rapists, armed robbers, burglars and muggers behind bars.
In this self-examination of a distinguished career Silverman also points the finger at the politicians and finds them guilty in his eyes of crimes against the justice system.
In this article David Kaye, a professor at The Pennsylvania State University School of Law, discusses the recent US Supreme Court ruling in the case of Maryland versus King, where the constitutionality of DNA collection before conviction was challenged.
Outrage rippled across the web earlier this week as Americans heard the story of Sharon Snyder, “a 70-year-old great-grandmother who was fired nine months before she was scheduled to retire.” Her transgression? An employee of Jackson County Circuit Court, she helped a man in prison who sought to have the DNA evidence in his case tested, but had his request rejected twice on technicalities because he hadn’t managed to properly fill out the paperwork.
SAN FRANCISCO — WHEN the police arrived last November at the ransacked mansion of the millionaire investor Raveesh Kumra, outside of San Jose, Calif., they found Mr. Kumra had been blindfolded, tied and gagged. The robbers took cash, rare coins and ultimately Mr. Kumra’s life; he died at the scene, suffocated by the packaging tape used to stifle his screams. A forensics team found DNA on his fingernails that belonged to an unknown person, presumably one of the assailants. The sample was put into a DNA database and turned up a “hit” — a local man by the name of Lukis Anderson.
What are some of the new technologies that we can expect to see in the not-too-distant future?
LONDON — You can ditch your computer and leave your cellphone at home, but you can’t escape your DNA.
It belongs uniquely to you — and, increasingly, to the authorities.
This year marks the tenth anniversary of the complete human genome sequence. The Human Genome Project revealed a surprising fact: Only 1% of our genome encodes proteins. This equates to a paltry 20,000–25,000 genes. The function of the other 99% of our DNA remained a mystery. Shortly after the sequencing was completed, the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) launched a new research project, termed the Encyclopedia Of DNA Elements (ENCODE), to identify DNA elements and try to find a purpose for the other 99% of our DNA. This project has contributed greatly to our understanding of the human genome, as documented in the 30 ENCODE-related papers published in Nature, Genome Research and Genome Biology in 2012 (see the Nature web site. However, the ENCODE project is being used in an unforeseen way: to support an appeal to the recent US Supreme Court decision about the constitutionality of collection and analysis of DNA from arrestees.