It has been thirty years since DNA was first used to convict a suspect in a criminal case. Since that time, DNA evidence has become an integral part of the criminal justice system in the United States, including Washington. DNA has been used by both the prosecution to secure a conviction and by the defense to exonerate innocent defendants. This blog will take a look at some of the early cases where DNA evidence first came into play.
According to CNN, the first case ever where DNA was used to find a suspect took place in Leicester, England. Two women had been raped and murdered and local police were convinced the attacks were linked. They had a suspect in custody, but he only admitted to one of the crimes. The investigators “sought the help of Dr. Alec Jeffreys, a geneticist who developed techniques to visualize bands of DNA in his lab.” The authorities then took samples from a man who had confessed as well as men living in the area. The DNA of the man who confessed didn't match, but the DNA of a local baker, by the name of Colin Pitchfork, did. Pitchfork subsequently confessed to both crimes in 1987.
This first case clearly demonstrates the power of DNA evidence, as it was used to both clear one man's name and find the real perpetrator.
Tommie Lee Andrews
The first case in the United States where DNA evidence was used to secure a conviction took place in Florida in 1987. A number of women had been raped and semen had been left at the scene. The DNA from these samples were connected to a blood sample taken from Tommie Lee Andrews. He was subsequently convicted and sentenced to twenty-two years behind bars.
Gary Dotson was the first man who was currently serving a sentence and was exonerated based on DNA evidence. According to the Innocence Project, Dotson had been convicted of aggravated kidnapping and rape in 1979. While the victim later recanted her accusation, Dotson was not granted a new trial, but his sentence was later commuted by the governor and he was released in 1985 pending good behavior. However, his release didn't last long and his parole was revoked after Dotson's wife accused him of assault in 1987. He was given one last chance but got into a bar fight and then again his parole was revoked. The following year a new attorney had Dotson's DNA tested and the results showed that the semen sample did not belong to Dotson. This was enough to get Dotson a new trial, but the State decided to not pursue the case and his conviction was finally overturned in 1989.
For the Future
It is likely that DNA evidence will continue to be used well into the future unless, and until, a more advanced technology is created. While the use of DNA in criminal cases has helped secure many convictions, it has also helped many people who were wrongly convicted prove their innocence, like this Washington man. If you or a loved one find yourself facing criminal charges, contact Seattle attorney Steve Karimi today.