DNA found by investigators has convicted criminals and set wrongly convicted people free. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Michael Morton has spent 25 years in prison for the murder of his wife, but he was recently freed because of DNA evidence that exonerated him. He is one of a disturbingly large number of people who have spent decades behind bars without substantial evidence showing they committed the crimes.

Man cleared of murder conviction

According to CBS, 57-year-old Michael Morton is going free after 25 years behind bars for a murder he didn’t commit. Morton was convicted in 1986 for the murder of his wife, Christine. Evidence from the case was recently tested for DNA. Morton’s DNA was not present, but DNA from his wife and another person’s was. The unidentified second person was implicated in other murders in the area.

Vital tool in law enforcement

DNA evidence can defeat prosecution when it doesn’t link a suspect to the crime, or it can help to secure a conviction. According to the Wall Street Journal, DNA evidence was recently found to link an already imprisoned serial burglar, 64-year-old David Grimes, to the 1977 murder of Ruth Van Houten. Van Houten was 77 years old at the time, and newly tested evidence revealed Grimes smothered her to death with a pillow.

A 20-year-old murder case in Los Angeles may have been solved, according to the Los Angeles Times. Evidence from the scene of the 1992 murder of Judith Goodman was submitted for DNA testing, revealing evidence that 53-year-old Leonard Terrance Woods was the likely culprit. Woods was a prime suspect at the time of the murder.

Murky science at times

Finding DNA evidence that a suspect was at a crime scene is not always a slam dunk. According to the New York Times, Israeli scientists were able to prove, in 2009, that DNA evidence can be fabricated. Researchers were able to replicate strands of male DNA using a common laboratory technique called whole genome amplification. Then they inserted the DNA into a woman’s red blood cells, which normally don’t contain DNA. The blood appeared in later tests to belong to the male whose DNA was used in the experiments.

The Amanda Knox murder trial, a media maelstrom, was overturned recently by an Italian court because the DNA evidence didn’t completely add up, according to the Daily Mail.

All too common

According to the Cleveland Dispatch, David Ayers was freed on Sept. 12 after spending 10 years in prison for murder. The Sixth Court of Appeals tossed out his original trial and ordered DNA testing be done. The state of Ohio declined to re-file charges.

Harold Hill, of Chicago, Ill., spent 12 years in prison for a rape and murder, that DNA testing in 2005 showed he didn’t commit, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. In 2006, he sued the city. The lawsuit was settled Oct. 4, 2011 for $1.25 million.

Since 1989, 86 murder convictions have been overturned because of DNA evidence, according to the Wall Street Journal. According to the Innocence Project, 273 people have been exonerated post-conviction with DNA evidence. Seventeen of them were on death row.



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