Prosecutor considers penalties for pointless DNA testing

Monday, January 20, 2003

ST. LOUIS -- Prisoners who ask for DNA testing knowing they are guilty of the crime need some form of punishment, said St. Louis Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce.

Joyce said she's considering ways to handle prisoners who abuse the system. She wants prisoners to face negative consequences if they request DNA tests and know they committed the offenses.

Her remarks to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch came after a DNA test confirmed the guilt of a rapist Friday who had attacked a 15-year-old girl more than a decade ago.

She said the Board of Probation and Parole could consider a prisoner's requests for DNA testing that confirmed a prisoner's guilt, should that prisoner ever come up for early release.

Or, she said, the costs of DNA testing reconfirming guilt could be taken from inmates' prison accounts. The tests cost the St. Louis Police Laboratory $1,500-$2,500 each.

'Some kind of disincentive'

Test results obtained Friday confirmed the guilt of Jimmie Hughes, 44, of St. Louis, who is serving a sentence of at least 55 years in prison for raping a girl.

"I think there has to be some kind of disincentive," she said, to prisoners "who would be so cruel as to do this, knowing full well that they, in fact, committed the rape."

In Hughes' case, the lab found a DNA match despite the "degraded" state of the sample that police retained in the victim's rape kit, Joyce said.

Hughes attacked the girl after she left a talent show at Vashon High School. He took her to a vacant house where he and another man raped her. The other attacker was never caught.

The test results case came a week after test results confirmed the guilt of another man in a separate rape case.

In that instance, rapist Kenneth Charron's DNA matched the DNA that investigators recovered from the victim's home shortly after the attack. Charron, now 52, raped a 59-year-old deaf woman in her St. Louis home in 1985.

At odds in other cases

The Innocence Project, a New York-based group won court orders requiring new DNA tests for Hughes, Charron and several other convicted rapists in St. Louis. The office of those working on the project was not open Saturday night for comment.

Joyce and the Innocence Project remain at odds in two other cases. Project lawyers have sought contempt-of-court findings against Joyce for what the group contends is her inexcusable opposition to DNA tests ordered by a judge.

The cases involved Lonnie Erby, sentenced in 1986 to 115 years in prison for sexual attacks the previous year on three girls, and Irving Berry, convicted of rape and robbery in 1979.

A DNA test sought by the Innocence Project exonerated Larry Johnson last summer. He was released in July after spending 16 years in prison in the rape of a St. Louis University student in 1984.

Joyce said she may propose state legislation to help prisoners wrongly convicted. She said such former prisoners often need emotional counseling, job training and money.

"On the other hand, abusers of the system cost money and agonize the victims," the prosecutor said. "There has to be some kind of mechanism in place. There has to be something for them to lose."

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