Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Hooray For Mary Jane!

Mary Jane Burton, that is.

Ms. Burton was a forensic scientist in Virginia in the 70's and 80's. When she ran tests on blood/semen etc. samples, she would cut off a bit of the cloth or Q-tip and tape it to her file so she'd have something to show a jury when she testified. (There are some hagiographers who are claiming that she was saving the evidence for a more scientifically advanced future, but people she trained and worked with say otherwise.)

According to protocol, the primary samples were returned to the agency that requested the test, and often destroyed after however long Virginia requires such evidence to be retained.
Ironically, the Department of Forensic Science stopped saving the snippets of evidence in 1989 in order to meet accreditation standards.

In 2001, the Innocence Project found out about Ms. Burton's saved samples. This led to the DNA exoneration of Marvin Anderson. In 2003, Ms. Burton's samples exonerated Julius Ruffin. In 2004, Ms. Burton's samples exonerated Arthur Whitfield.

In September 2004, Governor Warner ordered the testing of a 10% sample of the old files where DNA might be a factor. 31 files were pulled and the DNA tested. In 2005, the innocent men in two of those 31 cases were exonerated and pardoned, Willie Davidson and Phillip Thurman.

The 300-odd remainder of Ms. Burton's files are now being collected and tested.

Joshua Marquis, Vice-President of the National DA's Association, thinks only people on death row who can raise credible issues about their guilt should get this kind of review; testing others would be a waste of resources. (at 6:30) Seek Justice, my ass.

Read the summaries at the links on the names; what is the recurring theme? Bad eyewitness ID and/or suggestive ID. (Especially Marvin Anderson, with a touch of racism, a sprinkle of confirmatory bias and a couple dashes of IAC thrown in.)

Thanks, Mary Jane.



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