Innocence Project Pushes for DNA Preservation

By: Jon Kalahar Email
By: Jon Kalahar Email

Cedric Willis was convicted of murder and robbery at age 17 in Jackson. He was sentenced to life in prison. In October 2006, 12 years later, new DNA evidence led to his release. It's a scene the Innocence Project has helped make possible over 200 times now all across the country.

Attorneys for the local Innocence Project chapter say they believe it's time Mississippi makes DNA tests available to prisoners.

Attorney General Jim Hood says prosecutors never want to send the wrong person to prison.

"I'm for us holding any kind of evidence that would be capable of testing, if we had some kind of depository to keep it all," Hood said.

If a case goes to trial, all evidences entered at the trial is the responsibility of the county circuit clerk. If a plea is entered before a trial, the law enforcement agency must store it.

District attorney for Rankin and Madison counties, Michael Guest, said many small agencies across Mississippi don't have the space to hold evidence for long periods of time. He favors a central, state-run facility.

"The evidence, instead of being destroyed would then be sent to the state," said Guest. "The state would then catalog the evidence, house the evidence and then later if there is a claim or a request for new DNA to be done, then that evidence is in one central place."

Guest says DNA evidence is usually collected at violent crime scenes, and therefore, suspects stand to spend more time behind bars if convicted. That's a reason he would support keeping the biological evidence longer.

"If DNA testing would tend to exonerate someone who has wrongly been sent to prison, I'm all in favor of keeping that evidence preserved so that person would have a chance to prove his or her innocence," said Guest.

Hood said this is also an area where we need a fully-funded state crime lab that could perform DNA testing before a trial. He said the technology is there. Mississippi just needs the money to put it in place.

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