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To: Jeffrey S. Mitchell who wrote (1243)3/11/2008 12:08:02 AM
From: Jeffrey S. Mitchell  Read Replies (1) | Respond to of 1389
Re: 3/10/08 - Hartford Courant: More DNA 'Hits'; Tillman Case Break Shows The Value Of Taking Samples From Felony Suspects

More DNA 'Hits'
Tillman Case Break Shows The Value Of Taking Samples From Felony Suspects

March 10, 2008

The recent dramatic development in the crime for which James Tillman was wrongfully convicted illustrates why Connecticut should extend DNA sampling to include those arrested for felonies. Currently, samples are taken only from those convicted of felonies or crimes requiring registration as a sex offender.

Tillman was arrested after a woman identified him in a police photo lineup as the man who jumped her one evening in January 1988 as she got into her car in a Hartford parking lot, drove her a short distance and raped her. Convicted of sexual assault and kidnapping and sentenced to 45 years, he was exonerated in 2006 when DNA testing proved he wasn't the source of semen found on the woman's clothing.

Last month The Courant reported that Hartford police, working with investigators in the chief state's attorney's cold case unit, had linked the DNA found on the clothing to Duane Foster and had located him in a jail in Emporia, Va. Foster lived in Hartford at the time of the attack, has an arrest record for multiple felonies going back three decades and, as the side-by-side photos in The Courant demonstrated, bears a striking resemblance to Tillman.

Foster walked away from a halfway house in Middletown a year ago. He was arrested in August in Emporia on burglary and larceny charges in three counties. Because Virginia requires DNA samples from those arrested for a felony, his DNA was entered into that state's DNA database. By accessing that database, Connecticut investigators obtained a match between his DNA and the DNA on the woman's clothing and located him in the Emporia jail. He'll be returned to Connecticut at some point to face charges of kidnapping.

Virginia was the first state to pass legislation requiring a DNA sample from those arrested for felonies. It did so in 2002. Since then, 10 other states have followed its lead. California will begin obtaining samples from those arrested for felonies next Jan. 1. More than 20 other states are now considering similar legislation.

Last year, the General Assembly's Judiciary Committee approved legislation requiring a DNA sample from those arrested for class A or class B felonies. However, the Public Safety and Security Committee rejected the legislation amid concerns over the cost of training police in collection procedures, possible contamination of samples, intrusion into the privacy of individuals who are presumed to be innocent, and the disposal of samples from individuals who are subsequently found not to have committed the crime for which they were arrested.

As serious as those concerns are, there are strong reasons why the General Assembly should enact legislation requiring a DNA sample from those arrested for felonies. Connecticut began obtaining samples from those convicted of felonies only in 2003. As a result, the state's DNA database is relatively small compared with those in many other states.

According to data in the FBI's Combined DNA Index System, as of October the state's database contained samples from about 29,000 convicted offenders. In a state with 3.5 million residents, that's less than 1 percent of the population. Controlling for the difference in population, Virginia's database is more than four times larger.

The larger a state's database, the greater the likelihood of a "cold hit" — a match between an unidentified sample from a crime scene and one in the database. According to the FBI data, Connecticut's database has aided some 400 investigations. By contrast, Virginia's has aided more than 4,000 investigations.

Last year's proposed legislation is back before the legislature again this year. Also under consideration is a proposal put forward by Gov. M. Jodi Rell that addresses some of the procedural concerns voiced last year by delaying the collection of samples from those arrested for class A or class B felonies until after their arraignment.

The governor has also proposed that samples be obtained from those convicted of certain class A misdemeanors such as criminally negligent homicide, third-degree assault and stalking. While that extension makes good sense, it highlights the failure of both last year's legislation and the governor's proposal to require samples from those arrested for class C or class D felonies.

As they consider these proposals, the members of the General Assembly should keep in mind the lesson of the Tillman case — and approve legislation that extends DNA sampling to all those arrested for felonies.

David Cameron is a professor of political science at Yale.

Copyright © 2008, The Hartford Courant