Today's Austin American-Statesman reports, "Senator vows to expand DNA testing in innocence claims." It's by Chuck Lindell. Here's an extended excerpt from the beginning:
Arguing that the state’s highest criminal court watered down a law designed to free innocent people from prison, a state senator vowed Wednesday to introduce, and pass, legislation allowing for expanded DNA testing of crime-scene evidence.
Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, said a February ruling by the Court of Criminal Appeals interpreted the 2011 law too narrowly, “making it difficult for folks to secure DNA testing that can prove their innocence and identify actual perpetrators.”
“This decision, respectfully, is out of touch with tremendous advances in science that we’ve made in regard to DNA testing,” he said.
In its February ruling, the appeals court unanimously denied DNA testing for death row inmate Larry Swearingen, ruling that his lawyers had not established that there was biological material on several items Swearingen wanted to test, including pantyhose used to strangle the victim, Conroe college student Melissa Trotter.
The ruling leaves inmates in a catch-22 — unable to get DNA testing unless they can prove the existence of biological material that cannot be revealed without testing, said Michael Morton, who was exonerated by DNA evidence in 2011 after 25 years in prison.
Time Warner Cable News Austin posts, "Advocates Fight to 'Fix' DNA Testing Laws," by LeAnn Wallace. There is video at the link.
"The legislature has done a lot in recent years in regard to DNA testing to make sure the guilty are punished,” Democratic Sen. Rodney Ellis said. “And the innocent are free."
But Sen. Rodney Ellis says those efforts have seen a setback. A decision made by the Texas Criminal Court of Appeals earlier this year weakened the post-conviction DNA statute, denying death row inmate Larry Swearingen further DNA testing in his case.
"The legislature clearly understood this issue and why on earth would we execute a person without applying scientific DNA testing to determine whether that person was actually guilty,” Bryce Benjet with The Innocence Project said.
Earlier coverage of the February ruling by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals begins at the link. You can also jump to coverage of the 2013 Texas post-conviction forensics legislation (SB 344).