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NEWS & NOTES
Governor Commutes Lovitt's Death Sentence (Nov. 29th)
Virginia Governor Mark Warner issued a press release today announcing that he would commute Robin Lovitt's death sentence to life imprisonment. The announcement came one day before Lovitt's scheduled execution. Warner cited the improper destruction of biological evidence by a court official, which prevented a post-conviction DNA re-test, as the reason for his decision, saying "[t]he Commonwealth must ensure that every time this ultimate sanction is carried out, it is done fairly".
One would hope, of course, that every time a life sentence is carried out it is also "done fairly." If Lovitt's conviction was unfair, the appropriate remedy is a new trial, not a reduction in sentence. An unfair legal process that leads to a life sentence is less offensive than one that leads to an execution, but it is still offensive.
The governor's press release did not address the claim that Lovitt received an unfair trial on the issue of guilt or innocence due to biased and misleading testimony about "inconclusive" DNA tests. (Click here for background on that claim). Whether he lives of dies, Lovitt's case will continue to be an excellent illustration of the failure of the justice system, at both the trial and appellate level, to deal effectively with problematic scientific testimony.
Lovitt Scheduled for Execution Nov. 30th (Nov. 27)
Barring a last minute reprieve from Virginia Governor Mark Warner, Robin Lovitt will be executed Nov. 30, 2005. Lovitt arguably did not receive a fair trial because the DNA evidence in his case was presented to the jury in a biased an misleading manner. Yet the basic unfairness of the scientific testimony was never articulated clearly, nor raised as a significant issue, at any point of the appellate process. The case illustrates the failure of the justice system at both the trial and appellate level to deal effectively with problems in scientific testimony. Click here for more on Lovitt.
New Materials Available on Va. v. Winston (Nov. 27)
As an additional example of shoddy DNA testing by the Virginia Division of Forensic Sciences, we have posted transcripts, lab reports and lab notes from another capital case--Virginia v. Leon Winston. Not only did analyst Nicole Harold mischaracterize the statistical value of the DNA match, she violated her lab's protocol by ignoring the failure of two scientific controls (called "random sample controls") that were designed to determine whether the test procedure was working properly. These controls (random samples from the Virginia state offender database) were run at the same time as other samples in the Winston case. One "random control" produced an incomplete profile, the other produced the wrong profile. Yet Harold reported the results anyway. Her lab reports, issued in 2002, made no mention of the control problem.
Interestingly, the Virginia Division of Forensic Sciences decided to stop running random sample controls as of January 11, 2005. The memo announcing that these controls should be discontinued "in order to improve turnaround time for the analysis of casework" was signed by Jaffrey Ban, Forensic Biology Section Chief. Ban was relieved of his duties as Technical Leader of the Virginia Division of Forensic Sciences DNA laboratories in May 2005, after an ASCLD-LAB Audit Report (dated April 9, 2005) faulted him for errors and misinterpretation of DNA testing in the Earl Washington case.
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Last Revised: 11/04/10