Thursday, December 03, 2009

Test possible innocence cases among Bexar DNA cache

I'd neglected to mention a remarkable story out of San Antonio last month ("SAPD to review previously untested rape kits," Express-News, Nov. 17), with the discovery of thousands of untested rape kits in unsolved cases which were retained but never tested:

The San Antonio Police Department announced Monday it will begin sifting through nearly 150 of about 5,200 rape kits that were never tested over the past two decades, reversing a long-held policy not to analyze kits if the assailant was unknown and the victim didn't want to pursue prosecution.

Police Chief William McManus acknowledged that DNA information from such cases could still be important. Results from the tests will be sent to the Combined DNA Index System, a national database used by law enforcement agencies.

“We don't want to let any case where somebody was sexually assaulted fall through the cracks,” McManus said. “We want to raise the potential that person is going to get caught by pulling them into a database.”

Authorities said most of the 5,191 untested rape kits, which the Police Department keeps in storage, involve incidents in which the suspect is known as a result of a confession or the case involves incidents in which the victim recanted the rape allegation.

District Attorney Susan Reed said she believes the number of untested rape kits that will eventually be analyzed as a result of the new policy is less than 200.

“If we had 5,000 unknown rapists walking the streets, that would floor you, but I don't think that's the case,” Reed said. ...

Of the 5,191 that weren't tested, McManus said the majority involve suspects who have already been identified — making a DNA match a moot issue.

It will cost the police department $450 per analysis, but each rape kit could require multiple tests, officials said.

What seems to be missing here is any discussion of possible actual innocence cases as were discovered when Dallas found an old backlog of untested biological evidence. Just because the "suspect is known" is no reason not to test evidence, particularly if a defendant recanted a confession or maintained innocence. The suspect you think you know may be the wrong one.

In Dallas when a similar cache of old, untested biological evidence was discovered, DA Craig Watkins famously established a "Conviction Integrity Unit" that teamed up with the Innocence Project of Texas to vet the evidence for possible innocence cases, analyzing case files and prioritizing evidence for testing where defendants maintained innocence and the identity of the assailant was an issue at trial.

Are there similar cases waiting to be discovered in San Antonio? It's possible, perhaps even likely, but we won't know if the DA and police chief choose not to look.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for mentioning that perhaps some people may be proven innocent by this process. The people in the system adopt the bias of guilty regardless. And we entrust them with a lot of power.

We in Tennessee just executed a man this week who was possibly innocent. His case was badly conducted. The DA who was making a name for himself in this case, ultimately got his fame and his judgeship. He was then found guilty as a judge of taking bribes and killed himself and his wife. This same man, as DA in this case, brought in the one witness who could verify that Cecil Johnson was with him at the time of the murder and coerced him into not testifying for Cecil. All in all, these guys don't care about gulit or innocence. They want to win - at a human being's expense.

The ineptitude is mindboggling. That we give these people so much power should be scary. As long as you are trucking along leading a good life, you don't realize that. But should you get enmeshed in the system, you would find it is virtually impossible to get out. Especially if you don't have resources $$.

To take a life on the basis of fallible people doing inadequate jobs and caryying out agendas should make us all sad. To incarcerate someone and have that person lose years of precious freedom b/c these rape kits were not tested is unconscionable. The worst is that if someone is freed by this process, NO ONE will say "Sorry." That would imply a different kind of guilt!

Anonymous said...

Annonymus at 11:07, thank you so very much for your reply. This happens a lot in Texas and not just in Harris County, but the entire State.

Until we get "TERM LIMITS" for elected officials and stop rewarding them with higher paying jobs, this practice will continue. The Constitution is not followed, one is supposed to be innocent until proven guilty, but in todays society that is not how justice is served. You are guilty immediately upon being arrested.

Again, thank you and everything you wrote is true, both in Tennessee and especially in Texas.

NoMoreNoloContendere said...

Hey Grits,
Thanks for this info. We need to stay on top of this krap. This is a clear case of dereliction of duty & gross misuse of taxes. An entire section of a climate-controlled warehouse was dedicated to storing precious DNA evidence and mentally marked as "Do Not Test", is magically discovered after decades.

Someone then decides to alert the press that they are investigating only 150 of them. How many times did the power go out (storms / maintenance). The discovery is great but the results can be manipulated when police police themselves.

This has been happening all across the state. I hate to say it but if the detectives don’t want to investigate (ALL) criminal complaints, then what harm would it be for the FBI to take over the investigation side of (ALL) policing authorities. Freeing up the police to concentrate on crime prevention & apprehension. Thanks.

NoMoreNoloContendere said...

Anon. 11:42 Your compassionate words for Anon. 11:07 show that you understand. It couldn't have been said any better or clearer.

The problem starts out with a shaky quota related arrest followed by a quick indictment to beat time constraints, and then ends up being either plead out or tried. While plea-bargaining away any rights to appeal is in the fine print, you can bet no one’s ever read it prior to signing.

A former Harris County "career prosecutor" [his words] commented just this year to a Simple Justice post saying three types of cases go to trial. The very strong, the very solid and the very close, with the rest of the 95% pleaing out. This large amount of weak cases is represented by the large jail & prison populations.

As we speak, there are tons of non-DNA case files & police reports full of falsified evidence and/or obvious innocence being ignored. Yes, this is a statewide issue & we must deal with it ASAP. Any ideas?
Note: term limits is a start.