Entries in DNA Testing (5)


Court Allows Man to Seek Money from ‘Daughter’s’ Biological Dad

Comstock/Thinkstock(HARTFORD, Conn.) -- A man who discovered that the daughter he raised was not really his, can sue the biological father for $190,000 -- the estimated cost of raising her for 15 years -- the Connecticut State Supreme Court has ruled.

Eric Fischer saw the red flags. When his youngest daughter was born, his wife Pamela Tournier’s close friend and business partner Richard Zollino rode home in the limo with the new parents. For the next 15 years, Zollino was omnipresent at the girl’s musical recitals as well as her eighth grade graduation. And his youngest daughter did not look like his other two daughters, including one from a previous marriage.

Fischer decided to confirm what he already suspected. He “surreptitiously obtained” a hair sample from his daughter and sent it to lab with his own DNA sample and in October 2006, he received the results that “excluded the possibility that he was the younger daughter’s father,” according to a court document.

Fischer confronted his wife and they divorced in 2007.

The couple’s separation agreement only listed the couple’s elder daughter as issue of the marriage and Tournier testified that she believed the agreement was fair and that “she believed [Zollino] was the younger daughter’s father and that he had provided the younger daughter with support since and would continue to do so,” according to the court document.

Zollino submitted a DNA sample and it was confirmed that he was the girl’s father.

In 2008, Fischer filed a lawsuit against [Zollino] seeking damages on claims of nondisclosure, misrepresentation and unjust enrichment.

A lower court ruled against Fischer, saying that he “had held himself out to be the younger daughter’s father, that he had caused her to rely on him to meet her financial and emotional needs, and that revealing her true parentage after she had been led to believe for her whole life that [Fisher] was her father, would be detrimental to her emotional well-being.”

Fischer, Zollino and Tournier did not respond to requests for comment. Zollino’s attorney declined to comment and Fischer’s did not respond to a request for comment.

This week, the seven Connecticut Supreme Court justices unanimously overturned the ruling, saying that there was no evidence that Fisher’s lawsuit would be of financial detriment to the younger daughter, a legal technicality that helped overturn the original decision.

The justices ordered the case back to the Middletown Superior Court where it will be assigned a new judge, since the one who ruled originally has since retired.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Texas Court Stays Hank Skinner’s Execution

David J. Sams/Getty Images(AUSTIN, Texas) -- A Texas appeals court on Monday stayed Wednesday’s scheduled execution of Henry “Hank” Skinner “pending resolution” of his appeal for further DNA testing.

In a two-page order, the Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas noted that the state law regarding DNA has recently changed.

“Because the DNA statute has changed, and because some of those changes were because of this case, we find that it would be prudent for this Court to take time to fully review the changes in the statute as they pertain to this case,” according to the order.

Rob Owen, Skinner’s lawyer, issued a statement, saying, “The Court of Criminal Appeals with its decision today has ensured that Mr. Skinner’s request for DNA testing will receive the thorough and serious consideration it deserves.  We are grateful for the Court’s action and look forward to the opportunity to make Mr. Skinner’s case for DNA testing in that forum.”

Skinner hopes that he might one day be found innocent of the death of his girlfriend and her two sons.

Skinner’s girlfriend, Twila Busby, was bludgeoned to death with an axe handle in 1993 and her sons were stabbed.  Skinner was found nearby with his clothes soaked in the victims’ blood.

Skinner claims that he could not have committed the crimes because he was incapacitated by alcohol and codeine.  At his trial, his lawyers chose not to ask for additional testing of knives found at the scene, the axe handle, vaginal swabs, fingernail clippings and additional hair samples.  Skinner was convicted and sentenced to death.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Convictions of Three Men Overturned in 1991 Rape and Murder

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(CHICAGO) -- Three men imprisoned for nearly 20 years for the 1991 rape and murder of a 14-year-old girl will be freed this week after DNA testing linked a different man to the crime.

Robert Taylor, one of the exonerated men, walked out of Illinois’ Stateville Correctional Center on Thursday a free man, while two others also wrongfully convicted in the case will have their convictions vacated, prosecutors said Thursday.

The three men serving time, along with two others, were convicted in the November 1991 death of Cateresa Matthews.  The 14-year-old girl was last seen at her grandmother’s house and was found dead by a highway near Dixmoor, which is about 20 miles south of Chicago.

The details of this wrongful conviction story have made it stand out, and defense attorneys have been seeking new DNA testing since 2009.  The young men accused of the assault of Matthews and her murder by a single gunshot to the mouth were young teenagers at the time -- three were 14, two were 16.

The treatment which the young men received at the hands of investigators one year later when brought in for questioning was also dubious, as they were held in custody and interrogated for hours before some signed confessions.

Although DNA evidence recovered from the girl’s body did not match any of the five defendants, and even though the confessions were questionable, prosecutors moved forward with the case against them.

The group came to be known as “The Dixmoor Five.”  Defense attorneys claim at least one of the teens was told that they could see their parents if they signed confessions during a marathon questioning.

Ultimately two of the five young men received shorter sentences for testimony implicating the other three.  Robert Lee Veal, now 34, and Shainne Sharp, now 36, received reduced 20-year prison sentences in exchange for their testimonies.

According to records, both Veal and Sharp served approximately 10 years each.

Now, recent tests have identified a serial rapist as the source of the DNA, a man who was 33 at the time of the murder.  That man is serving prison time in Cook County for a drug offense and is currently under investigation for Matthews’ murder.

“It’s truly unexplainable,” said Taylor’s attorney Josh Tepfer.  “It’s one of the most tragic injustices in this state’s history.  It’s five kids who were wrongfully convicted…while a true perpetrator went on and lived a criminal lifestyle.”

The other two exonerated men, Jonathan Barr, 34, and James Harden, 36, who are brothers, should be released on Friday once paperwork is completed.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Texas Death Row Inmate Wants Access to Untested DNA

David J. Sams/Getty Images(AUSTIN, Texas) -- A Texas death row inmate who was hours from execution in 2010, now finds himself with two new avenues of appeal to attempt to prove his innocence through DNA testing.

For years since his murder conviction, Henry “Hank” Skinner had unsuccessfully sought access to untested DNA evidence found at the scene of the crime.

Last year, hours before his scheduled execution, a final appeal to the Supreme Court went in Skinner’s favor.  The justices halted the execution and eventually ruled that he could go back to court and argue his case.

The ruling from the Supreme Court, coupled with a new DNA law passed in Texas last month, have given Skinner new hope that he might one day be found innocent of the death of his girlfriend and her two sons.

Skinner’s girlfriend, Twila Busby, was bludgeoned to death with an axe handle in 1993 and her sons were stabbed.  Skinner was found nearby with his clothes soaked in the victims’ blood.

Skinner claims that he could not have committed the crimes because he was incapacitated by alcohol and codeine.  At his trial, his lawyers chose not to ask for additional testing of knives found at the scene, the axe handle, vaginal swabs, fingernail clippings and additional hair samples.  Skinner was convicted and sentenced to death.

While the Supreme Court did not weigh in on his guilt or innocence it said he could go to federal court and attempt to sue state officials under federal civil rights law.

At the same time, Skinner’s lawyers are pursuing a separate appeal in state court.  Just last month, Texas revised its DNA law to ensure that procedural barriers do not prevent prisoners from testing biological evidence that hadn’t been tested.  Skinner’s lawyers have filed papers asking the court, pursuant to the new law, to compel the DNA testing.

But the State of Texas believes that Skinner is abusing the system. In court papers, Jonathan F. Mitchell, the Solicitor General of Texas, argues that at the time of his trial Skinner’s original attorneys made an “informed, tactical” decision to forego the testing because they feared it would further implicate their client.  Mitchell notes that Skinner was convicted on an “overwhelming evidence of guilt” tied to physical evidence as well as his own statements.

Mitchell argues that if the state allowed Skinner access to the materials he initially declined to test, it would set a dangerous precedent.

On Monday, the parties will appear in federal court to address the changes in Skinner’ case and the fact that a new date for his execution -- Nov. 9 -- is quickly approaching.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Supreme Court Hears Convict's Appeal in DNA Case

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The Supreme Court heard arguments Wednesday about whether it should come to the aid of a Texas man on death row for a second time, this time by allowing him access to DNA evidence that he hopes will prove him innocent.

Hank Skinner has been on Texas' death row since 1995, convicted of bludgeoning to death his girlfriend and stabbing to death her two mentally disabled sons on New Year's Eve in 1993.  His lawyers argue that police at the time did not test for DNA all of the physical evidence, including blood found on the murder weapons.

Forty-eight states have rules on the books allowing for DNA testing of evidence following a conviction.  Last year the court ruled that convicts had some recourse for DNA testing, but only in special and limited circumstances.

Wednesday's hearing hinges on whether Texas law, which has denied Skinner the opportunity to seek new DNA testing, too narrowly opens the door for prisoners to seek additional testing after they have been convicted.

"Our argument is that the Texas statute was enacted to grant, essentially, protection to a class of inmates who were wrongfully convicted and can prove that with DNA evidence," Skinner's lawyer Robert Owen told the court.  "[Texas] then interprets that statute in a way that needlessly chops a bunch of those inmates out."

Owen called the Texas ruling "arbitrary" and that it did not take into consideration "the likelihood of innocence."

In March 2009, just 45 minutes before he was to enter the death chamber and moments after completing his last meal of cheeseburgers, catfish and chicken thighs, Skinner was subject to one of the rarest writs in U.S. law – an eleventh-hour stay of execution by the Supreme Court.
Prior to the trial 16 years ago, the prosecution ordered DNA testing on some, but not all, of the evidence. Skinner's then-lawyer had the opportunity at trial to demand more testing, but chose not to.

Skinner has never denied he was at the crime scene. He has instead insisted that he was "out cold," too drunk from a night of binging and drug use to have committed the murders.

Skinner says the real killer was his girlfriend's uncle, Robert Donnell, whom Skinner claims was a violent man who made unwanted sexual advances towards the woman on the night of her death. Donnell was killed in a car crash in 1997.

In a jailhouse interview with Skinner in April, one month after he received the stay, he told ABC News his lawyer did not seek further testing because he did not want to give the prosecution more ammunition in case it came back positive.

"The lawyer's explanation to me at the time was, under the code of criminal procedure…the district attorney has a duty to exclude as well as convict. He said: 'If I were the district attorney I would test all of this evidence, but I am not going to test it because I am your attorney and I am not going to get you convicted if something happens'," Skinner said.

Four lower courts have overturned Skinner's earlier appeal. The Supreme Court is not concerned about the facts of the case, but only whether Skinner was denied his Constitutional right to evidence that could free him, or if he's just trying to game the system after the fact.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio