Local News

Attorneys Seek To Retest DNA Of Death Row Inmate

Posted March 29, 2006

— Once primitive, DNA testing is now seen as more conclusive and fast. Today, many attorneys want convictions confirmed with a second DNA test. A North Carolina lawyer has asked for one for the first time in state history.

Jerry Conner, 40, is scheduled to be executed in May for a 1990 double murder and rape in Gates County. Unlike most older cases, DNA samples were taken from the crime scene and tested by the FBI. The tests were inconclusive.

"The FBI conducted a test and they basically shrugged their shoulders and said we don't know whose this is," said defense attorney Mark Kleinschmidt.

Conner's attorneys said DNA testing has come a long way. They have filed a court motion asking for a retest using modern methods. Conner's plight has been a source of debate.

Supporters say why not use every scientific means possible to clear a person's name or support a conviction, especially when someone is about to be executed.

"I don't think the people of North Carolina are going to be satisfied sending a man to death with an open question about whether or not this is the right person," Kleinschmidt said.

The Gates County District Attorney's Office is opposing the test, saying there was plenty of other evidence to support Conner's conviction.

"I would think, in the majority of cases, it would support a conviction if your evidence was that convincing in the beginning," said Assistant Wake County District Attorney Frank Jackson, who is not involved in this particular case.

Jackson said, in most situations, he supports post-conviction DNA testing.

"Any method that we have to determine the truth of the matter, and no matter what time it is, either pre- or post-conviction, it should be used if it will reveal the ultimate truth in a case," he said.

A Gates County judge will ultimately decide whether or not a new DNA test will be done. Conner is scheduled to be executed at Central Prison on May 12.

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