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Wednesday, October 04, 2006

DNA Test Raises Questions in Case of Man Imprisoned 24 Years

This article appeared on Wood TV of Grand Rapids, Michigan's website on October 2, 2006:

DNA test raises questions in case of man imprisoned 24 years

DETROIT (AP) -- DNA test results have prompted authorities to re-examine the case of a man imprisoned since 1982 for his role in the rape of a woman who was shot-gunned to death during a botched burglary at her rural southwestern Michigan home.

Charles S. Kent admitted that he and three others broke into the house. But he said they thought no one was home, and he repeatedly denied killing or sexually assaulting Melvina Daisy, a 28-year-old wife and mother.

Now, because of DNA tests that didn't exist when he was convicted -- and conducted under a 2001 state law -- the man who turned 46 in an Upper Peninsula prison last Saturday could have a chance for a new trial.

The new tests found that semen from the crime scene could not have been Kent's, but it had deteriorated too much to prove whose it was, said Berrien County Assistant Prosecutor Aaron Mead.

The prosecutor's office received the results Sept. 5 and filed a court motion two days later asking that a public defender be named for Kent, Mead said. A judge agreed this week, but a lawyer had not yet been named, a court clerk said.

Whether the new evidence will win Kent a new trial is far from certain.

"It's preliminary to say he was exonerated," Mead said. "We've just taken it one step at a time."
Nationwide, at least 183 people have had their convictions reversed since 1989 based on DNA evidence, according to the Innocence Project at Benjamin Cardozo Law School in New York.
State prison records and stories at the time in The Herald-Palladium give a vivid account of the killing and the trials that followed.

On the afternoon of Jan. 26, 1982, Ronald Daisy picked up his 7-year-old daughter Rhonda at school and drove to their house in Coloma Township, 10 miles from the county seat of St. Joseph and 165 miles west of Detroit.

Ronald and Melvina Daisy worked for the same company in St. Joseph, but she stayed home sick that day.

Ronald Daisy said he found his wife's car gone and the house in disarray. He went upstairs and found her body in a blood-spattered bedroom. She had been blindfolded and her hands tied. An autopsy found she had been shot twice with a shotgun.

One of the suspects was the 21-year-old Kent, a 325-pound bad-check convict on work release from a state lockup in nearby Benton Harbor.

Kent first denied, then confessed to a role in the crime but said he was innocent of rape.
Prosecutors said they would charge him only with conspiracy to commit burglary if he testified truthfully, and Kent was a key witness against slaying suspect Gerald G. Barker, 31, who was tried first, convicted of felony murder and sentenced to life without parole.

But prosecutors struck a separate deal with 19-year-old co-defendant Christopher Cochran, who then testified that first Barker and then Kent sexually assaulted Daisy.

Prosecutors filed new rape and robbery charges against Kent. They reduced the charges against Cochran from felony murder to unarmed robbery, and he received a 10- to 15-year sentence after pleading guilty.

At Kent's trial, state police crime lab expert Glen Moore testified that Kent had the same A blood type as the source of semen from the crime scene. Moore said none of the other male defendants or the victim's husband had the same blood type.

Kent took the stand in his own defense.

"I have never raped anyone in my life," he told the jury. "This is the truth and the whole truth."
The jury found Kent guilty of first-degree criminal sexual conduct and armed robbery, and Judge Zoe Burkholz gave him two life sentences.

After Kent's conviction, a third trial found Cochran's 39-year-old mother, Barbara Cochran, guilty of armed robbery. She received a life sentence.

Kent became eligible for parole after 10 years, but the Michigan parole board declined to release him in 1992, 1997 and again in 2002. He is scheduled for another hearing in 2007, said Corrections Department spokesman Leo Lalonde.

From the Kinross Correctional Facility, Kent petitioned in 2004 to have tests run to compare his DNA with the crime scene evidence under a 2001 Michigan law. After several false starts, a court ordered the tests Dec. 6, Mead said.

DNA tests have only been available as evidence in Michigan courts since the mid-1990s, according to Norman Fell, head of the Cooley Law School Innocence Project at the school's Lansing campus.

The project has reviewed more than 3,000 old cases for possible DNA but has gone to court in fewer than 20 so far, Fell said.

The facts in Kent's case suggest that he's a long way from exoneration but does have hope, Fell said.

"He should at least get a new trial," Fell said.

Mead said the case is only the second his office has handled under the 2001 DNA testing law. Tests in the first case confirmed the convict's guilt.

He said he did not know where Kent's case might lead.

"All the significant developments are ahead of us," Mead said.

(Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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