New law lets inmate seek DNA testing in 1987 rape case

Monday, October 22, 2001

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- A man serving two consecutive life terms for the 1987 rape and robbery of a 73-year-old northern Missouri woman is hoping for exoneration through DNA evidence and a new Missouri law.

The law allows inmates to have evidence tested for DNA if the technology wasn't available at the time of their trial.

"I just want somebody to look at the evidence," Robert Craig, now 37, told The Springfield News-Leader. A hearing on the motion asking for DNA testing of the evidence in Craig's case is expected next month.

"I know there is hope," Craig said. I'm just glad someone saw it with me."

James Garrett, who prosecuted Craig and is still the Putnam County prosecutor, is working with the attorney general's office in responding to Craig's motion.

"It was a well-tried case," Garrett said. "The appeals in the case stood up."

When he was arrested in the Putnam County crime, Craig pleaded for a lie detector test, or asked to be hypnotized or given a truth serum.

No physical evidence linked Craig to the crime. He had an alibi, and most of the evidence against him was circumstantial. The woman couldn't identify him in the courtroom -- "No, I don't see him," she said -- until the prosecutor pointed him out.

Craig was convicted after a two-day trial.

"I was a petty thief, but I'm not a robber or a rapist," he said.

Passed polygraph

Two years ago Craig's family paid $600 for a lie detector test by a retired Missouri State Highway Patrol polygrapher. That test concluded Craig told the truth when he said he didn't rape and rob the woman.

And Craig has written more than 500 letters pleading his case, most to attorneys, some to organizations that help inmates who feel they've been wrongly convicted. He got about 150 replies over the years, but no one was willing to take his case until Springfield attorney Shawn Askinosie heard from him in February. Though he has received dozens of letters from inmates, Askinosie thought Craig's letter was different.

"Something told me this needed a second look," Askinosie said. "There was actual evidence from the scene that could be tested," including hair samples.

The letter arrived months before the new law was introduced, so Askinosie started by exploring other avenues, like federal court, where he might be granted a motion to test the old evidence.

In the spring, Askinosie heard about the new law. If an inmate claimed innocence and had been convicted primarily on eyewitness testimony and there was biological evidence, DNA testing could be used.

"It's like this law was written for this case," he said.

DNA is like a fingerprint of a person's body. And every cell in the body casts the same genetic shadow.

DNA can be detected in a person's sweat, saliva, urine, hair and semen. A swipe of a hand on a sweater can leave DNA.

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