DNA evidence has had a profound effect on the criminal justice system. In Missouri and across the country, many people have been exonerated after new evidence made available in the last two decades showed their convictions were wrongful.
But even when DNA evidence is inconclusive, a national advocacy group called the Innocence Project is sometimes able to overturn wrongful convictions. In one such case, a St. Louis man was released from prison after serving nearly thirty years on a murder conviction made possible by deeply flawed procedures.
The man had also been convicted of rape, sodomy and burglary in connection with the same crime, in which a 31-year-old woman was killed.
The circuit court judge who released the 56-year-old man voided all of the convictions that resulted from what he called a flawed interrogation. That interrogation, in which police hid undisclosed evidence, led to the man's confession. The judge described that confession as "dubious."
The Missouri Attorney General's office elected to appeal the circuit judge's ruling. The AG's office acknowledged that police had failed to disclose evidence. But the AG's office argued that the case had ultimately turned on the suspect's confession.
The Missouri Court of Appeals, however, upheld the circuit judge's ruling. The court issued a 51-page opinion explaining its reasoning.
Barry Scheck, a New York attorney who serves as co-director of the Innocence Project, said he and others who worked on the case were thrilled by the man's release. Scheck said that even with inconclusive DNA evidence, there were several avenues law enforcement could investigate in searching for the person who actually committed the crime.
Source: "Appeals court rejects challenge to St. Louis man's prison release," St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Robert Patrick, 12-27-12
Our firm handles situations similar to those discussed in this post in the St. Louis area. To learn more about our practice, please visit our page on criminal appeals.