DNA lab issue deemed not an issue in robbery trial
Travis County prosecutors won an early victory Tuesday in the battle over how much recently revealed problems at the Austin Police Department DNA lab will affect criminal prosecutions.
The win came when state District Judge Charlie Baird denied motions for a new trial filed by two men sentenced to decades in prison in May for aggravated robbery.
Joseph Foley, 34, and Michael Cooper, 35, were convicted in part based on DNA evidence found near the scene of a July 16, 2009, home robbery that linked them to the crime. The evidence, including gloves and a bandana, corroborated a co-defendant’s testimony that the men followed two women they thought were strippers from Sugar’s Uptown Cabaret to a nearby house, where they beat, shot and robbed some of the people inside.
Linda Icenhauer-Ramirez and Kiele Linroth Pace, lawyers for Cooper and Foley, respectively, argued that their clients should have received, before trial, a February memorandum in which Cecily Hamilton, then a police DNA analyst, detailed allegations of problems at the lab.
In the memo, copies of which prosecutors have since distributed to defense lawyers, Hamilton disclosed that analyst Elizabeth Morris has had problems with her casework in the past. Morris conducted the DNA analysis in the Cooper and Foley cases, and Icenhauer-Ramirez and Pace argued that the memo could have been used to discredit Morris’ testimony.
On Tuesday, DNA lab supervisor Cassie Carradine testified that Morris had four instances of contamination in her work in 2006 and 2007. She also testified that Morris had more errors in her casework in 2008 but that her work improved until earlier this year, when she had another case of contamination.
Carradine said that all labs have some contamination, that all of Morris’ mistakes were quickly discovered and that none of Morris’ errors or contamination issues caused incorrect conclusions.
In denying the motions, Baird noted that because Morris did not have issues in her casework during the time she conducted the analysis in Cooper’s and Foley’s cases, her history would not have been admissible during the trial.