Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

Local News

February 7, 2013

Post-conviction DNA testing passes first hurdle

FRANKFORT — The Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday sent a bill to the Senate floor which would make post-conviction DNA testing available to felons — at least those who didn’t plead guilty or accept an Alford Plea (declining to admit guilt but conceding enough evidence exists for a conviction).

Senate Bill 23 is sponsored by Sen. John Schickel, R-Union, who was stunned last summer to learn such testing is now available in Kentucky only to those on death row.

Nationwide, a growing number of convicts in prison have successfully proven their innocence through DNA testing of evidence at the crime scene, in some cases because the testing didn’t exist at the time of the crime.

According to Joe Blaney of the Innocence Project, a national organization affiliated with the Benjamin Cardoza School of Law, Yeshiva University in New York, 302 people serving felony prison time have been proven innocent using DNA testing.

Half of those investigations, Blaney told the Judiciary Committee, also determined the real perpetrators, some of whom had continued to commit crimes while the innocent person was in jail.

But in Kentucky the procedure was only available to those on death row.

Schickel, a former law enforcement officer, said he had a hard time believing that when he first found out. So he filed Senate Bill 23 to change it.

“This bill, to me, is a matter of justice,” Schickel told the committee. He quoted founding father John Adams who said it is better a guilty person go free than for an innocent one to be imprisoned.

The committee approved a committee substitute which amended the bill to exclude those who pleaded guilty or took an Alford Plea, at the request of prosecutors.

Former Judge Tom Wine said the change isn’t necessary, that there are circumstances in which an innocent person may plead guilty, fearing a longer sentence if he doesn’t. And in the end, Wine said, getting innocent people out of jail will only benefit the judicial system, including prosecutors.

Schickel said after the meeting he would prefer the original bill, without the substitute amendment, but even the amended version represents a major improvement over the current law. He and Warren County Commonwealth Attorney Chris Cohron pointed out that those excluded had admitted to their crimes.

Sen. Robin Webb, D-Grayson, an attorney who often represents defendants in criminal proceedings, objected to the change, especially the exclusion of those who take an Alford Plea.

“In my mind someone making an Alford Plea is maintaining innocence,” she said.

An Alford Plea allows a defendant to avoid pleading guilty while recognizing the weight of the evidence is likely enough to convict him. Usually in such cases, an Alford Plea has been negotiated in return for a lighter sentence.

Blaney said the investigations by the Innocence Project found around 10 percent of guilty pleas were made by innocent defendants – for a variety of reasons but usually to avoid a longer sentence they see as inevitable in spite of their innocence.

Sen. Jerry Rhoads, D-Madisonville, also an attorney, suggested changing the language to allow judges to exercise their discretion when reviewing requests for DNA testing by those who previously pleaded guilty or took an Alford Plea.

But the substitute passed, with even Webb and Rhoads voting in favor because, they said, the bill still represents an improvement over current law.

Webb said she hopes the bill will be amended when it gets to the Democratic House and even Schickel said that wouldn’t displease him.

Ed Monahan, the state’s chief Public Advocate, said the bill “marks important progress but it would be improved if it allowed people who plead guilty to have the same right.

“Everyone knows there are innocent people who plead guilty,” Monahan.

Ronnie Ellis writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at rellis@cnhi.com. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.

1
Text Only
Local News
  • 0419sciencehs.JPG Russell High School wins State Science Olympiad

    The long ride home from Bowling Green was tinged with disappointment for Russell High School students who believed they’d finished as also-rans in the state Science Olympiad last weekend.

    April 18, 2014 1 Photo

  • 0419sciencems.JPG Russell Middle School state Science Olympiad champions

    From identifying hundreds of insects to designing and operating mechanical contraptions that just look like insects, a team of Russell Middle School students took their research and technical skills to the Science Olympiad in Bowling Green last week and came back state champions.

    April 18, 2014 1 Photo

  • 0419melodies0114.jpg Kitchen jazzes up downtown lunch hour

    Some came to enjoy the relaxing sounds of cool jazz and traditional tunes at lunch, while others attended in hopes of picking up a few tricks from a master musician as guitarist Chris Kitchen kicked off the Melodies & Masterpieces concert series in downtown Ashland Friday afternoon.

    April 18, 2014 3 Photos

  • Sparks, Waddell in Carter Coronor’s race

    Incumbent George A. Sparks of Grayson will face challenger William Waddell of Olive Hill in the Democratic primary election for the Carter County coroner’s seat.

    April 18, 2014

  • 04/18/2014 — What's Happening

    Local news

    April 18, 2014

  • Bill3.jpg 'Dreams'

    It was in her own death that Donna Schoonover helped William Schoonover redefine his life.

    April 18, 2014 1 Photo

  • guyp-rodnew.jpg 'Uplifting people'

    The snow kept gospel singer Guy Penrod chilling a little longer than it should have this spring.

    April 18, 2014 1 Photo

  • 0418star0024.jpg Raising the roof

    Leaks will soon be a thing of the past at Star Elementary School, where workers are busy putting up a new roof.
     

    April 18, 2014 1 Photo

  • Fire at Russell care facility

    A care facility for the elderly in Russell was temporarily evacuated following a fire in the kitchen Wednesday night.
     

    April 18, 2014

  • Incumbent, newcomer vie for PVA position

    A longtime office-holder is facing a rare primary challenge in the Greenup County property valuation administrator race.

    April 18, 2014

Featured Ads
Seasonal Content
AP Video
Captain of Sunken SKorean Ferry Arrested Raw: Fire Destroys 3 N.J. Beachfront Homes Raw: Pope Presides Over Good Friday Mass Raw: Space X Launches to Space Station Superheroes Descend on Capitol Mall Man Charged in Kansas City Highway Shootings Obama Awards Navy Football Trophy Anti-semitic Leaflets Posted in Eastern Ukraine Raw: Magnitude-7.2 Earthquake Shakes Mexico City Ceremony at MIT Remembers One of Boston's Finest Raw: Students Hurt in Colo. School Bus Crash Raw: Church Tries for Record With Chalk Jesus Raw: Faithful Celebrate Good Friday Worldwide Deadly Avalanche Sweeps Slopes of Mount Everest Police Arrest Suspect in Highway Shootings Drought Concerns May Hurt Lake Tourism Vermont Goat Meat Gives Refugees Taste of Home Calif. Investigators Re-construct Fatal Bus Cras Mayor Rob Ford Launches Re-election Campaign Appellate Court Hears Okla. Gay Marriage Case
Hyperlocal Search
Premier Guide
Find a business

Walking Fingers
Maps, Menus, Store hours, Coupons, and more...
Premier Guide
AP basketball
SEC Zone