If you are a fan of true crime shows or just someone who stays up-to-date on your national news, you are likely to see how the evolution of DNA testing has continued to change the way that crimes are solved, allowing detectives to close cold cases that they never thought would have a resolution.
Technological improvements have expanded the power of DNA, now allowing testing of even trace amounts of DNA. As a result, all 50 states now allow post-conviction DNA testing. Unfortunately, DNA testing is not automatically given when requested, and the law requires that a judge approve.
The case of Kelvin Alexander
Unfortunately for Kelvin Alexander, a North Carolina judge has decided that DNA testing of shell casings in the 1992 murder case he was convicted of perpetrating would have no benefit to the case. Mark Rabil, a Wake Forest University Law professor and head of the school’s innocence project, feels that it is time for the judge to catch up with the newest DNA technology which can show matches off of trace or degraded evidence.
While the judge claims that the DNA found on the shell casing will have no definitive bearing who pulled the trigger that murdered Carl Boyd at an Amoco station more than 25 years ago, Rabil argues that it will show who loaded the gun. While obtaining post-conviction testing after a guilty plea is an uphill battle, Rabil feels that the particulars of this case make it one of the strongest he has encountered.
Not only was Alexander pressured to plead to second-degree murder charges out of fear that he might face execution if he went to trial, but the key witness that put him at the scene and prompted his attorneys to seek a deal had been giving conflicting statements. A statement that the attorneys were not aware since the witness was not announced until right before the trial. While still professing his innocence to his attorneys, he took the plea bargain and was sentenced to 15 years to life for second-degree murder.
After the trial attorneys were made aware of inconsistencies in the witness statements that placed him at the scene. First changing her location at the scene, and then failing to identify Alexander from a lineup even though she said she had known him forever.
What do they hope the DNA will show?
If there is viable DNA found on the shell casings, Rabil believes that it will not only exonerate his client but lead them to the true killer. An informant had identified a career criminal as the shooter, and they are hoping that the DNA gathered will be a match to that suspect.
Can DNA still be gathered from shell casings more than 25 years old?
DNA testing on what used to be considered less valuable evidence has improved tenfold in just the past decade, making items such as shells and casings easier to test as long as they were properly stored. Just last year, police in Kansas City used the DNA on a shell casing to help solve a murder investigation in which a woman was shot. DNA from the casing left at the scene hit a match in the FBI database. This led to a suspect, and they found the murder weapon in his possession. So while DNA on shell casing can not directly link the crime to the person who pulled the trigger, it can produce a viable suspect to be investigated.
Unfortunately, in Alexander’s case, his attorneys are unaware if the casings were properly handled or stored in a way that would allow them to be tested, or even if they still exist as numerous requests for the evidence to the district attorney has never been responded to. For now, his attorneys are working on appealing the ruling to the higher courts in hopes that they can acquire the testing they need to help prove their case.
DNA testing can be a complicated process, so having an attorney that knows how the technology has improved and how to file for specific testing, can be crucial to providing you with the best possible outcome for your case.