Thomas Doswell of Pennsylvania and Larry Peterson of New Jersey recently had their convictions overturned as a direct result of DNA testing. Each defendant had serverd 18 years in prison. In Peterson’s case, the prosecution had sought the death penalty but the jury could not agree and he was sentenced to life. His case marked the first time a New Jersey court has overturned a conviction because of DNA evidence. Both reversals stemmed from the work of attorneys at the Innocence Project of the Benjamin Cardoza School of Law in New York City.

Though he has consistently maintained his innocence, Doswell was convicted of the 1986 rape of a nursing home employee. After a request for DNA testing filed by the Innocence Project, a Common Pleas court judge ordered evidence from the crime scene tested and the results cleared Doswell of any involvement in the crime. He was released from prison following the state’s withdrawal of charges. In 1999, Doswell had filed a motion with the court to allow DNA testing, but a judge ruled in favor of prosecutors who challenged the motion because it was filed three weeks too late. “Really, this could have been taken care of in 1999… . I don’t see it as a victory. It’s a major loss of 18 years that nobody can compensate; nobody can give back. This is a guy who got railroaded,” said one of Doswell’s attorneys, James DePasquale. (Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, July 30, 2005; Associated Press, Aug. 2, 2005).

In New Jersey, the reviewing judge has ordered a new trial for Peterson based on the results of DNA testing on 30 hairs found at the crime scene and mircroscopic examinations of 130 additional hairs that were not DNA tested. Prosecutors stated that they will retry the case based on the testimony of five witnesses who claim Peterson told them about the killing. Peterson remains incarcerated. “The bottom line is, witnesses lie. DNA doesn’t,” said defense attorney Vanessa Potkin of the Innocence Project. (Associated Press, July 30, 2005).

See Innocence.