innocence blog

A Web log for the Innocence Institute of Point Park University

Monday, December 19, 2005

DNA Evidence: Convicts find DNA tests to be tough sell to judges

First of a Series

By Bill Moushey

From the time he was implicated in the 1988 murder of Noreen Malloy at a McDonald's restaurant near Kennywood Park, Drew Whitley has professed his innocence. Now, he says, modern-day DNA analysis of hair found at the scene would prove it.
John Dolenc claims he didn't kill his estranged wife near her Mt. Lebanon apartment in 1977. DNA tests of blood splatters found near her body could exonerate him, too, he says.
The Allegheny County district attorney's office recently agreed to DNA tests in Mr. Whitley's case after a protracted legal battle, but it continues to fight Mr. Dolenc's request, which is now before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
These two cases are among 15 filed in Allegheny County under a 2002 law aimed at making it easier for people sentenced to life in prison or death to test their DNA against physical evidence, using techniques not available when their cases were tried. The law says all they have to do is to show a judge that DNA tests could prove their "actual innocence."
But even though the law has produced one celebrated exoneration in Allegheny County and DNA tests have freed more than 160 wrongly convicted people across the country, these two cases show how difficult it remains for inmates to persuade prosecutors and judges to conduct DNA tests on past crimes in Pennsylvania. The difficulty hinges on whether a DNA test definitely "would" or just "could" prove innocence.
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