DNA Testing Can Be Used In Resolving Criminal Cases Part 4

Deborah Warrie

Deborah Warrie

State v. Williams, 458 So. 2d 1315 a Locus. On August 22, 2007, a state appeals court in Baton Rouge the capital city of the U.S. State of Louisiana, ruled that Archie Williams (an accused, wrongfully incarcerated for 37 years in prison and released on March 21, 2019) had a legal right to DNA testing that could prove his innocence in rape and attempted murder case for which he was convicted in 1983.  The ruling came nearly a quarter-century after Williams was convicted and 11 years after attorneys for Williams filed the first legal motion seeking DNA testing in the case.

The case stems from a December 1982 attack at a woman’s Baton Rouge home.  An unknown assailant pushed his way into her house, raped her and then stabbed her.  The victim and a friend (who entered the home during the attack) were both asked to identify the perpetrator in lineups.   The victim was shown in 17 different photo arrays.  In the first two, she did not identify Williams, but his photo was in the last three consecutive photo arrays, and she identified him in the last one (Williams’s was the only photo shown in more than one photo array).  He was convicted in April 1983 based on the victim’s identification, even though he did not match her initial description of the perpetrator (among other factors, Williams is about a half-foot shorter than the perpetrator as described by the victim).  Years after he was convicted, the analysis showed that Williams was not the source of bloody fingerprints that the perpetrator left at the crime scene after stabbing the victim.

In December 1996 after unsuccessfully trying to persuade the Baton Rouge District Attorney to agree to DNA testing without a court order, Williams’s attorneys filed a motion in state court asking for DNA testing.  That motion was denied, as were at least nine others over the next 11 years that were filed in state and federal courts. Even after the Louisiana Legislature passed a law in 2001 explicitly granting access to post-conviction DNA testing, prosecutors opposed Williams’s motions seeking testing, and the courts denied testing.

At Williams’s trial, prosecutors noted that motile sperm were collected in the victim’s rape kit.  DNA testing was not available at the time, but prosecutors said the sperm came from the perpetrator and that Williams had the same blood type as the perpetrator.  In court filings in recent years, the Baton Rouge District Attorney’s office had switched course and said DNA testing on the sperm would not prove Williams’s guilt or innocence, since the victim might have had consensual sex with her husband.  Motile sperm, like that collected from the victim immediately after the attack, is only present for a few hours after it is deposited.  The Innocence Project had said, there could be two men’s DNA present.The concluding part of this case, will be addressed in the next edition.

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