Seven on death row have taken state up on DNA testing offer

By LIZ SIDOTI, Associated Press Writer
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - Seven of the 205 inmates on death row have taken the state up on its 2½-year-old offer to pay for DNA tests in certain cases. None were proved innocent.
"In almost all cases, and contrary to public belief, DNA actually confirms and cinches the inmate's guilt, and that's what this demonstrates," said James V. Canepa, chief deputy of criminal justice for Attorney General Jim Petro.
A bill the Legislature sent to Gov. Bob Taft last week, which Petro supported, would make the DNA-testing program part of Ohio law and make it available to inmates convicted of all felonies.
Former Attorney General Betty Montgomery began offering the tests in 2000 to those convicted of aggravated murder and sentenced to death.
Under the bill, inmates are eligible for the $1,500 test if they have not had an earlier test with a definite result and if they can show that the testing could exonerate them. Sufficient biological evidence also must be available.
The Washington, D.C.-based Death Penalty Information Center says 26 states have passed laws or have pending legislation that allow inmates to have DNA tested and have the evidence reviewed. Since 1973, 108 death row inmates nationally have been exonerated. Of those, the center says, DNA was a substantial factor in establishing innocence in 12 cases.
In Ohio, none of the seven tested were exonerated from the results.
However, one of those tested -- Jerome Campbell -- was spared execution last week by Taft after evidence from his DNA test ultimately showed that blood on Campbell's gym shoes was his blood, not that of his victim, John Henry Turner.
Taft agreed with a parole board recommendation to commute Campbell's sentence to life in prison because while he was not innocent, jurors may have recommended a different sentence if certain blood evidence had been available.
DNA is the genetic coding in cells specific to an individual, and evidence that contains bodily fluids, skin, bones or blood samples that can be tested for DNA is only available in about 10 percent of criminal cases, the center says.
Greg Meyers, chief of the death penalty division of the Ohio Public Defender's Office, said DNA tests can't be used for every inmate because such evidence often isn't available in cases predating the 1990s when reliable and routine DNA testing did not exist.
In other cases, he said, any biological evidence that was collected may have disappeared since the crime occurred.
"You go for DNA testing when the nature of the evidence makes guilt or innocence a significant question and there's biological material available from the scene of the crime that could answer it," Meyers said.
He said that DNA testing likely wouldn't apply to many of those sitting on death row because they were properly identified as the perpetrators of the crimes for which they were convicted, and the dispute on appeal is how they were prosecuted and whether the death penalty is appropriate.
Sen. David Goodman, a Republican from Bexley who sponsored the bill, said he wasn't surprised that none of the seven Ohio inmates tested were exonerated.
"By the time a person ends up on death row and is facing execution, they've gone through quite a bit of scrutiny in the judicial process," he said. "This just gives credibility to the criminal justice system."
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)