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Bill to expand post-conviction DNA testing clears key Colorado Senate committee

The Rocky Mountain Innocence Center estimates between 3% and 6% of criminal convictions are of innocent people.

DENVER (CN) — Over the last 20 years that Colorado has allowed post-conviction DNA testing, just three people have been exonerated. Rather than a testament to how well the justice system passes judgment, Colorado lawmakers see this single-digit number as a reflection of the steep barriers to testing.

A bill that would lower the bar for individuals convicted of crimes to seek DNA testing of evidence unanimously passed the state Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday.

“The purpose of this policy is to improve our statute and allow petitioners access to DNA testing and identify the actual perpetrators of crimes,” said state Senate Majority Whip Julie Gonzales, a Democrat from Denver and a bill sponsor. “We all want to ensure justice is served and actual perpetrators are serving time.”

HB23-1034 “Measures To Expand Postconviction DNA Testing” boasts bipartisan support in both chambers and was unanimously approved by the House last week.

The Rocky Mountain Innocence Center estimates the criminal justice system has a 3 to 6% error rate, potentially having wrongfully imprisoned thousands of innocent people.

Ray Krone was wrongly accused of murdering a 36-year-old bartender near Phoenix, Arizona, in 1992 after a medical examiner said his teeth matched markings found on the victim.

“I was convicted in just 3 1/2 hours by a jury,” Krone told the committee. “The judge sentenced me to death because I didn’t show remorse. Well how can you show remorse for something you didn’t do?”

Over the course of his imprisonment — which lasted 10 years, three months and eight days — Krone recalled petitioning for a new trial as the state executed prisoners on death row.  

His second trial lasted 17 days and included three bite-mark experts. When DNA from the bite marks was tested, analysts found it did not match Krone. Even still, prosecutors convinced the jury to ignore the DNA evidence and convict him a second time. It took the passage of a new law for Krone to finally be exonerated in 2002.

“I hope no one needs to use that law, but I also hope it’s there for anyone that needs it,” Krone said.  

Robert Dewey submitted written testimony of the 18 years he spent in prison after being wrongly convicted of the rape and murder of 19-year-old Jacie Taylor in Palisade, Colorado. Under the current law, a Colorado judge denied his request for post-conviction DNA testing after finding he didn’t meet the state’s standard.

With the help of the Innocence Project advocacy group and the Colorado Attorney General's Office, Dewey was finally exonerated in 2012.

"Under current law, an incarcerated person can motion the court for post-conviction DNA testing to prove the person's actual innocence if DNA testing was not available at the time of the person's prosecution,” the bill summary explains.

The bill allows individuals who are incarcerated, on parole or probation, on the sex offender registration, as well as those who have completed sentences to obtain DNA analysis. Additionally, the new law would allow previous DNA samples to be retested as new technology becomes available.

“Since it first became available as a forensic tool in the early 1990s, DNA technology has become increasingly sensitive,” testified Anne-Marie Moyes, director of the Korey Wise Innocence Project.

“When it was first developed, analysts could only test visible samples of blood and semen, but now investigators can run analysis with as few as five skin cells," Moyes said. "This means testing clothing or items a perpetrator touched."

If signed into law, the measure would allow the Korey Wise Innocence Project at the University of Colorado to test DNA in several cases where individuals assert their innocence.

The bill will now go to the full state Senate for consideration.

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