Crime lab problems cast doubt on case of inmate scheduled for execution on July 11A wide ranging coalition of advocacy groups have joined together to ask Governor Mark Warner to re-test all DNA evidence used in the conviction of Virginia death row inmates.
Warner ordered a review of DNA evidence used in at least 160 criminal cases in Virginia after an independent audit by the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors criticized the state’s Division of Forensic Science for its handling of the Earl Washington case. Washington spent 17 years on death row before new DNA testing pointed to his innocence.
“Governor Warner is to be commended for ordering the case reviews,” said ACLU of Virginia executive director Kent Willis. “But that is not enough where the death penalty is involved. In those cases, the state needs to re-test all DNA to make absolutely certain that the evidence was accurately interpreted.”
“The execution of an innocent person is not an error the state can reverse,” added Willis.
The case reviews ordered by the Governor consist of careful analysis of the way in which evidence was handled in criminal cases in order to determine if proper procedures were followed, but do not go so far as to require the re-testing of DNA evidence. The letter sent to Warner emphasizes the importance of re-testing DNA in cases in which the death penalty is involved.
Of particular concern to the groups that have written the Governor is the case of Robin Lovitt, who is scheduled for execution on July 11. In that case, the state determined that DNA evidence was inconclusive and then proceeded to improperly destroy the evidence. The letter calls for the Governor to halt the execution of Lovitt.
The letter, which was delivered to the Governor earlier today, was signed by representatives of the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy, Virginians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, the Virginia NAACP, the Rutherford Institute, the Virginia Catholic Conference, the Virginia Council of Churches, the ACLU of Virginia and eight others.
A copy of the letter can be found at http://acluva.org/wp-content/uploads/2009/12/20050622-DNA-Re-Testing.pdf.
Kent Willis, Executive Director, ACLU of Virginia, 804-644-8022
Additional Contacts: Jack Payden-Travers, VADP, 434-960-4673 or Doug Smith, VICPP, 804-370-6689