Monday, January 19, 2009

A change of heart in Ohio

A year ago, Ohio prisoners requesting a DNA test to prove their innocence were repeatedly rejected or ignored. Now, at least in Franklin County, where one man was exonerated last year, prosecutors are searching and finding lost evidence and even reconsidering DNA testing requests that they previously opposed. So, Prosecutor Ron O'Brien is going to give Charles A. Dumas another chance at freedom.

"This test means my life; it's my last chance to prove to my children I didn't do this," said Dumas, an inmate at the North Central Correctional Institution near Marion. Dumas, a 37-year-old Columbus man without a previous felony record, was convicted in 1998 of raping a 4-year-old Reynoldsburg girl. He was sentenced to 10 years to life in prison. His original request for a DNA test was rejected in 2004 and then stymied again in 2007 when he was told the best evidence in his case had been lost or destroyed.

Without prodding from defense attorneys, O'Brien told his staff in October to search again for Dumas' evidence. The search produced two slides containing sperm samples recovered from the victim during a medical examination after the rape. "I had somebody turn everything upside down to look for it," O'Brien said. "We were able to find the rape kit in a closed file in storage, rather than a property room where it should have been."

Yesterday, O'Brien and the Ohio Innocence Project, a nonprofit legal clinic at the University of Cincinnati law school representing Dumas, completed a testing agreement. An official order is expected to be filed in Common Pleas Court next week for sending the evidence to a private lab in suburban Cincinnati.

David Laing of the Ohio Innocence Project praised O'Brien and his staff for their cooperation. "They've been absolutely fabulous," Laing said. "I have to give a great amount of credit to O'Brien and Kim Bond (an assistant prosecutor). They went the extra mile and are supportive of the testing."

O'Brien said the Robert McClendon case changed his view of DNA cases. The Columbus man was released in August after serving 18 years for a child rape that DNA testing showed he didn't commit. As in the Dumas case, DNA testing at the time of McClendon's trial proved to be a dead-end. But last year, advanced testing at a private lab identified semen on the victim's underwear and showed that it couldn't have come from McClendon.

O'Brien agreed, with skepticism, to more testing after a private lab, DNA Diagnostics Center, offered it free as part of the Dispatch series "Test of Convictions." Dumas' case was among 300 reviewed by The Dispatch last year but wasn't a candidate for testing because the evidence had been lost. In 2004, Dumas' DNA request also was rejected in part because, as with McClendon, the evidence already had been tested years earlier to no avail.

"What we found with the McClendon case is it makes us more willing to take a second look at evidence that may have been previously tested," O'Brien said. DNA Diagnostics has agreed to test Dumas' evidence at no charge, as well.

Dumas was babysitting his girlfriend's two daughters, an infant and a 4-year-old, when the older girl was raped on Oct. 29, 1997. Dumas says he was drinking and partying when the 4-year-old went outside to play. When she came back inside, Dumas said, she was in pain and her genitals were bleeding. The girl later identified Dumas as her rapist, prosecutors said. DNA testing at the time was inconclusive, but a jury convicted him. Now, there appears to be enough sperm to obtain a DNA profile of the attacker, thanks to advanced testing technology.

Both sides agree that the testing should settle questions about Dumas' guilt once and for all. The victim's mother didn't respond to messages seeking comment. Dumas always has maintained his innocence, although he acknowledges feeling terrible about what happened. "I was a pretty (lousy) babysitter," he said. "I ain't going to say it's my fault, but I should have been there for her."

Dumas has two children of his own, now teenagers, who have grown up without him during his more than 11 years in prison. "I just want to be exonerated for my kids' sake. My kids need me." Dumas isn't scheduled to appear before the parole board again until 2012, and officials have warned inmates that a DNA test confirming their guilt will be used against them. "I'm not worried about that," Dumas said, "because I didn't do this."

Original report here

(And don't forget your ration of Wicked Thoughts for today)

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