Ky. Practices For Retaining Evidence Affects Old cases.

Ky. Practices For Retaining Evidence Affects Old cases.

Excerpted from AP report: Nov. 27, 2009

Defense attorneys say evidence has gone missing in Kentucky, resulting in problems for six capital cases and possibly hundreds of other prosecutions, including rapes and robberies.

All the cases predate DNA testing, which can now be used to determine guilt.

“It’s really becoming an issue,” said Kentucky Innocence Project chief Ted Shouse, whose office is reviewing more than 4,000 old cases. “This is going to be a huge problem.”

Kentucky enacted a 2004 law allowing some death row inmates to request DNA testing on evidence if their cases predate the science. The state also passed a law requiring preservation of evidence from the moment it is collected. Meanwhile, many Kentucky counties set about replacing old courthouses – and transferring files and evidence to the new facilities.

But the evidence rules in place before 2004 meant the evidence wasn’t always easy to find.

In one case involving Gregory Wilson, who was convicted of the 1988 kidnapping and murder of Deborah Pooley in northern Kentucky, hairs used to send him to prison were lost before they could be tested for DNA. They are still missing. Wilson is awaiting an execution date after exhausting his appeals.

Louisville public defender Dan Goyette, who represents Wilson, said the hairs could cast doubt on his client’s guilt.

“At this point, everything is crucial,” Goyette said.

Court reporters, prosecutors and local law enforcement in Kentucky’s 120 counties used to keep tabs on the evidence in their own ways. Sometimes evidence was misplaced or thrown out, said Gordon Rahn, an attorney with the Kentucky Innocence Project.

The group received a $1.1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Justice last year to review old cases. But pursuing cases under the grant has hit a roadblock, Shouse said.

Leigh Anne Hiatt, a spokeswoman for the Kentucky Administrative Office of the Courts, which oversees the building of new courthouses, said clerks’ offices are responsible for tracking the evidence.

Hiatt said there was no written policy for moving evidence from one facility to another, but the AOC’s practice is to have its employees transport the evidence to ensure it is properly handled.

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