Let's Talk About It
There was a great (and short) article written by Peter Andrey Smith (When DNA Implicates the Innocent, Scientific American, June 1, 2016), in which Smith provided a cautionary analysis of the dangers of relying too heavily on DNA evidence.
His primary example was Lukis Anderson, who in 2012 was charged with killing Raveesh Kumra, based on DNA evidence found at the crime scene. As it turned out, Anderson was in the hospital at the time of the murder, and his DNA was unknowingly transferred to Kumra by the paramedics who treated them both. Truth is stranger than fiction, right?
In my first actual innocence investigation, State of Texas v. Gustavo Mireles, DNA found at the crime scene was the only evidence that linked Mr. Mireles to the brutal 2001 murder of Mary Jane Rebollar. She was stabbed to death with a screwdriver-like weapon, and left in the cab of her truck parked in a sugarcane field. The evidence against Mireles consisted of two blood drops, and two pubic hairs, inextricably "found" in the victim's purse.
After that, it didn't matter that the the victim had a fistful of female hair in her hand, who that female was, or why investigators failed to collect that hair. Nor that the sheriff's office had taken blood and dozens of pubic hairs from Mireles, that relevant samples received at the lab were unsealed, or that an exonerating witness and a primary suspect were available.
If the science is reliable, then perhaps a scientist can explain why all of the crime scene DNA was degraded to the point that the lab could only recover three loci, except for the samples that conveniently identified Gustavo Mireles. Those samples had miraculously not denatured at all after two days in a sealed truck cab in the hot Texas sun, and came back with perfect nine-for-nine matches. How's that for context?
We need to stop giving DNA evidence a pass. Without proper context and interpretation, DNA evidence is circumstantial at best.
Daryl Parker is a published author, investigator, inventor, criminal justice reform activist, retired U.S. Marine, and treasure hunter.