DNA Reversal Doesn’t Stop Prosecution

Prosecutors in a rural Mississippi county are planning to retry a man for the rape and murder of a 3-year-old girl despite a 2002 DNA test showing semen on the child was not his.

Kennedy Brewer, who spent 15 years in prison for the crime, was freed last week on bail pending a new capital trial, the New York Times reports.

Peter Neufeld, director of the Innocence Project, which relies on DNA tests to win exonerations, says the case is a first. Prosecutors usually drop such cases, and they have never sought the death penalty in a retrial of an inmate after a DNA reversal, he told the Times.

District Attorney Forrest Allgood told the newspaper he originally believed Brewer acted alone, raping and killing the child of his girlfriend. Now Allgood contends Brewer, who was babysitting the child the evening of her death, helped someone else commit the crime.

However, DNA of two men who visited Brewer that evening did not match the semen. Allgood has not run the DNA through the state’s DNA database.

Brewer and his girlfriend contended the child was not there when they awoke the next day, and they don’t know how she disappeared. Her body was later found in a creek.

In Brewer’s first trial, the state relied on controversial bite-mark expert Michael West, a dentist who said at least five marks on the body of the girl came from Brewer. West’s findings have been refuted by DNA evidence in at least two other cases, the Times says.

A February 1996 ABA Journal article on West, “Out of the Blue,” said West’s forensic testimony had long been questioned by many of his peers, yet he remained in demand as an expert. The story noted the controversy over his testimony in Brewer’s trial.

West had claimed all of the bite marks on the child were made only from Brewer’s upper teeth. Defense expert Richard Souviron says that would be impossible. “You could not make bites the way [West] says these bites were made,” Souviron told the Journal. “It’s crazy.”

Updated 09-06-07 12:22 p.m. CST

We welcome your comments, but please adhere to our comment policy and the ABA Code of Conduct.

Commenting is not available in this channel entry.