DNA lab is­sue deemed not an is­sue in rob­bery trial

Austin American-Statesman - - METRO & STATE - By Steven Krey­tak

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.

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