Thursday, December 15, 2005

Texas Monthly: Why can't Steven Phillips get a DNA test?

Thanks to Texas Monthly editor Evan Smith for letting Grits have a free media preview link to Michael Hall's excellent story in the upcoming issue: "Why can't Steven Phillips get a DNA test?" Steven Phillips was convicted of a 1982 rape based on eyewitness testimony, but no physical evidence. A tiny bit of semen evidence was preserved from the rape, though, and Phillips believes a DNA test would prove that his three alibi witnesses weren't lying years ago when they said he was home asleep at the time of the incident. The problem isn't Texas' statute, but elected DAs and judges who want to prove they're tough on crime. Wrote Hall:
Phillips isn’t the only Texas inmate who has been denied a DNA test. Over the past five years, an estimated 800 convicts have made a request, but only 83 have seen it granted. “It’s harder to get DNA testing in Texas than any other state,” says Nina Morrison, a lawyer at the New York–based nonprofit Innocence Project. “The Texas statutory language is generous; it strikes an appropriate balance between granting testing in cases where DNA is relevant to the identity of the perpetrator and not granting it in cases where there are no doubts.” The problem, says Morrison and other lawyers, is that many Texas prosecutors aggressively fight DNA motions no matter what the merits of the request, and many judges apply a strict interpretation of Chapter 64, one that can make it almost impossible to get a test.
Be sure to check out the rest. Hall explains the ins and outs of DNA testing, takes a look at the troubled Houston crime lab, and discusses the role of Texan and former FBI director William Sessions promoting DNA testing in old cases. Good stuff, Michael. And thanks again, TM, for the preview!

RELATED: The Washington Post reports today on two more defendants exonerated by post-conviction DNA tests in Virginia. Both were convicted of rape more than 20 years ago.


Catonya said...

if they allow the DNA tests, they would inevitably have to admit that at some point in the past, they were -omg- wrong? about something. Most will fight til their dying breath before allowing that possibility. But at the expense of how many lives....?

I've often wondered what it would be like if there was a "counter-sentence" of sorts. Better be sure you can prove 'em guilty or you'll do the time. Overboard and it's own slew of problems, but an entertaining thought anyway. :o)

Anonymous said...

No, don't sentence the prosecutor - if the DNA test supports their guilt then add five or so year's the the *defendent's* sentence. (If it exonerates them, set them free or re-try.) That would reduce "busywork" requests - but you still need reliable DNS evidence handling and analysis.

Anonymous said...

I like catonya's counter-sentence idea. That'd put a stop to a lot of this crap.

Anonymous said...

Hi. I am Steven Phillips' Daughter.

I LOVE the counter sentence idea of adding the 5 years (or more!!!) for those frivolous requests.

My father has spent most of my life in prison. Even if it proves that he is not guilty...he is out soon anyway. If he is proven not guilty how do you redeem those years?

It's a very confusing situation in which to be and I wouldn't wish this on anyone.