In 2010, a Texas man was convicted of the murder of another man and given life in prison for the crime. He claimed he didn’t do it. Nine years later, the courts have finally been forced to agree after a nationwide search of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) databases, initiated by the Innocence Project, matched to another man — one who had continued to commit crimes while the Texan languished in prison.
DNA databanks, such as those created by Ancestry.com and 23AndMe, have been in the news a lot lately, ever since the Green River Killer was caught by investigators prowling the site. Other, similar, unsolved crimes have also been solved that way. However, this may be the first time that a nationwide search promoted by a group outside of law enforcement has used national databases to exonerate an innocent man.
The troubling aspect of this case, however, is that DNA is also what put the Texan behind bars in the first place. Although the independent lab that reviewed the DNA used in his trial said that the prior profile was incorrect and a re-exam showed that he wasn’t the genetic material’s donor, he had to appeal his case all the way to the federal courts to get anyone to listen.
This highlights one of the many problems with using DNA evidence to convict someone of a serious crime. Incomplete DNA profiles, badly-sequenced profiles that are full of mistakes or contaminated with trace DNA can leave someone sitting behind bars for decades or life.
This case also shows how important it can be to have experienced legal assistance when you’ve been accused of a violent crime. You need every advantage to protect your rights and your future.