Lawyers hope to organize DNA testing for Ohio prisoners

By JOHN NOLAN, Associated Press Writer

CINCINNATI (AP) - Defense lawyers hope to partner with the University of Cincinnati law school in a project that would provide DNA testing for Ohio prisoners who contend they are innocent.

The program would follow the nonprofit model of the Innocence Project founded in 1992 by lawyers Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld at the Benjamin Cardozo School of Law in New York, said William R. Gallagher, a Cincinnati trial lawyer.

It uses law students to research cases -- under a lawyer's supervision -- to determine whether an inmate's case would be suitable for the DNA testing. The program handles only cases in which its lawyers believe that post-conviction testing of DNA, a person's identifying genetic material, can yield conclusive proof of innocence.

The Ohio program would be made available to all Ohio prisoners, whether they face execution for murder or were convicted of lesser crimes, Gallagher said.

Although some individual lawyers in Ohio have helped inmates request DNA tests, a concerted effort is needed to assist the many other prisoners who need help, he said.

Gallagher said that potentially hundreds of prisoners could benefit, but Hamilton County Prosecutor Michael Allen said he doubts whether there are any reliable estimates of how many innocent people are wrongfully imprisoned.

Joe Tomain, dean of the University of Cincinnati College of Law, said Tuesday that he hopes to decide in about a month whether the project can be based at the school. Defense lawyers say the law school has the resources to boost the project.

"I need to learn more about how it would work," Tomain said. "I know that it's worked in other places. It could be a very valuable project."

Law students could do the research as clinical study for their education, Gallagher said.

He said that $15,000 in pledges has been raised so far, including a promise of $10,000 from television entertainer Jerry Springer, who is a former Cincinnati mayor and onetime Ohio candidate for governor.

Allen, who is a trustee of the University of Cincinnati, said Tuesday he would support such a project.

"No prosecutor wants an innocent person in jail or executed," he said. "If there's something to test and the request is a reasonable one, we're going to cooperate."

Ohio Attorney General Betty Montgomery also supports such efforts and two years ago began offering DNA testing to Ohio death row inmates, said her spokesman, Joe Case.

Two prisoners whose appeals were exhausted have requested the testing, Case said. DNA testing was done for one of the inmates, Jerome Campbell, but failed to prove his innocence, Case said.

Campbell, 41, was convicted of killing a Cincinnati man in 1988.

The test substantiated only that Campbell's blood was on his own shoes, Case said Tuesday.

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)