DNA tests, they’re a tool that has proven incredibly useful in recent years, and their results are often seen as providing conclusive evidence these days. At first, they were subject to doubt and derision. Well, if you’re wavering, here a few instances where DNA tests have proven essential:
- Overturning an injustice
It’s difficult to imagine, a miscarriage of justice that meant one man spent more than twenty years on death row for a crime he didn’t commit, but that’s what happened to Nick Yarris. Facing the electric chair, after being convicted of rape and murder, Nick spent the majority of those 23 years in prison, in solitary confinement.
So great was Nick’s despair after many frustrated attempts at proving his innocence, that he asked for his appeals to be dropped and for the execution to take place. A Judge ordered one more round of DNA tests which proved his innocence and since his release in 2004; Nick has built a new life in the UK. So there you can see the usefulness of DNA testing in overturning a longstanding miscarriage of justice.
- DNA testing comes to the fore
Another case in which DNA played a part in proving the innocence of someone on death row was that of Roy Criner. After being sentenced to 99 years for the rape and murder of a 16-year-old girl, Criner consented to DNA testing that eliminated him as a contributor of the evidence gathered.
Additional information uncovered by local newspaper The Houston Press suggested that crucial evidence had also been withheld by the police and prosecutors. Governor George W. Bush agreed, stating that “credible new evidence raises substantial doubt about the guilt of Roy Criner and that he should receive a pardon.” Criner was exonerated on 15th August 2000, having served ten years of his sentence.
- Innocence uncovered
On 11 January 2003, then Illinois Governor George Ryan commuted the sentences of 167 death row inmates and freed four others. It was an act that came about three years after his moratorium on executions in the state. Having been a supporter of the death penalty until his time in office, Ryan had gradually become aware of the capriciousness and inequalities of the legal system.
At one point Ryan ordered DNA testing on death row inmates and found that more were innocent than guilty – with 13 being exonerated. For Ryan, the debate goes further than DNA testing alone, from the importance of fair and robust legal representation to equitable sentencing across the country. But, what is certain is that DNA testing played a key part in the evolution of his views.
- DNA testing in the UK
Colin Pitchfork became the first person in the UK convicted of murder by DNA testing in 1987. Investigators were examining the case of two young girls in the Narborough and Enderby areas of Leicestershire who were abducted, raped and murdered. Their investigation led to over 5,500 men from the local area having their DNA tested, in a mass screening. Colin was not amongst them, but having been overheard bragging about getting someone else to stand in for him, he was later arrested, tried and convicted.
- Romanov Mystique
Following the disappearance of the Tsar Nicholas II and his close family in July 1918, lots of pretenders to the crown surfaced. The mysterious case of Anna Anderson captivated the world’s press, a young woman who purported to be the only surviving member of the Russian royal Family – Grand Duchess Anastasia. But was she to be believed? Though many found her story compelling and a film was even made about her life in 1956, a court hearing of 1970 ruled that there was no way she could prove her identity.
However, rumours of what happened to the Romanovs were finally laid to rest when remains were found in woods close to the Romanov’s house of arrest in 1991 and then nearby in 2007. DNA tests concluded that between the two burial sites all of the Romanovs were accounted for, including Grand Duchess Anastasia.
So as you can see, DNA tests have proven useful, crucial even, in proving innocence, overturning injustices, ensuring justice is done and laying the past to rest. Perhaps DNA tests could help you too.