Death row inmate seeks DNA test

Friday, July 25, 2003

INDIANAPOLIS -- A man facing execution next week for murder is vying for a DNA test his lawyers say may cast doubt on his guilt, and his supporters include a prosecutor and a juror who helped convict him.

Lawyers for Darnell Williams asked a U.S. District Judge John Tinder on Wednesday to allow DNA testing of blood stains found on Williams' clothing. His supporters say tests could show the blood was from neither of the two shooting victims, which would be contrary to evidence presented at trial.

In an affidavit to the court, Thomas Vanes, who helped prosecute Williams, wrote that the blood was portrayed at trial as consistent with that of the victims, John and Henrietta Rease.

If DNA testing shows the blood is not from the victims, Williams' guilt in the Aug. 12, 1986, should be reassessed, Vanes wrote.

"I don't see the harm in doing the testing," Vanes said last week.

John Gnajek, who served as a juror in Williams' trial, also has supported the testing. He said the blood evidence convinced him that Williams took part in the shootings with a co-defendant who is also on death row.

In denying the DNA tests, the Indiana Supreme Court ruled last month that there was plenty of additional evidence to support the death sentence.

The state attorney general's office has argued during the appeals process that there was no basis for the DNA tests.

Attorneys for Williams, who is scheduled to be executed Aug. 1, also hope to persuade Gov. Frank O'Bannon to commute his sentence after the Indiana Supreme Court's ruling.

"There is simply no excuse not to give us this chance to get to this evidence," said Barry Scheck, co-founder of the Innocence Project at Cardozo Law School in New York.

Tinder said he would rule on the request by Monday, the same day the Indiana Parole Board is scheduled to vote on a clemency recommendation to the governor. O'Bannon's spokeswoman, Mary Dieter, said it was too early for the governor to consider intervening.

Scheck said there have been more than 130 post-conviction exonerations nationwide, including 13 in capital cases, based on DNA evidence.

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