Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Convicted rapist exonerated by DNA

Ernest Sonnier who was released from prison last August when evidence surfaced that he had been wrongly convicted of a 1985 rape was exonerated when DNA tests results were released in court today. The tests results excluded Mr. Sonnier from being involved in a second rape that resulted in a murder.  Mr. Sonnier had been a suspect in that case.

For all the talk in law school and the media about how a trial acts as a crucible of truth, Mr. Sonnier's case is a terrifying tale of just what happens when the police are allowed to run the crime "lab" that tests physical evidence in criminal cases. The following excerpt is from The Justice Project's report of the Sonnier case:

Sonnier’s conviction was based largely on misleading forensic testimony and a mistaken eyewitness identification. The victim picked Sonnier out of a photo lineup almost six months after the crime occurred and later identified him in a live lineup. At trial, the victim again identified Sonnier as her attacker, but conceded that the photo of Sonnier looked more like her assailant than did the man in the courtroom.
In addition to the victim’s identification the jury was given faulty forensic testimony skewed to bolster the prosecution’s case. A Houston Crime Lab analyst testified narrowly about the rape kit slides, which evidence did not match Sonnier’s blood type, and affirmed a prosecution effort to explain away the lack of a match by suggesting that the victim’s blood type could have masked the perpetrator’s. In fact, lab records contain no indication of scientific testing or results to support this theory. The analyst also failed to disclose that additional semen evidence from the victim’s clothing was tested, and that all of it failed to match Sonnier’s blood type Jurors were left with an incomplete and misleading picture of the available evidence. Moreover, Sonnier’s attorney did not call a single witness in his defense.

Unfortunately with Williamson County District Attorney John Bradley presiding over the Texas Forensic Science Commission you have the equivalent of the fox guarding the hen house. Mr. Bradley has a vested interest in preserving the status quo and not looking into "old cases" for the more we find out about the shoddy "science" used to deprive people of their freedom (and lives, in the case of Cameron Willingham), the more the public will question the win at all costs mentality that infects too many prosecutors across this state and this country.


Mikethelawstudent said...

So much for the mantra 'its better for 100 guilty men to go free than 1 innocent to be imprisoned'



Paul B. Kennedy said...

Thanks for your comment.

You should see the shocked look on jurors' faces when I ask them how they feel about that statement (and I only go 10 and 1) during voir dire.