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Supreme Court's Decision On DNA Test May Affect Other Cases

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RALEIGH, N.C. — DNA isn't just fodder for television crime shows. It's also used to solve crimes. A North Carolina Supreme Court ruling this week opens the door for more defense attorneys to ask that their clients' DNA be retested using modern methods.

The state will not execute convicted murderer Jerry Conner on Friday at Central Prison as planned. Right now, one thing stands between Conner and death -- DNA.

"Conner was first convicted in 1991 when DNA testing methods were very different than they are today," said Conner's attorney Mark Kleinschmidt.

Conner's attorneys appealed to the courts, saying that before he is put to death Conner's DNA should be re-tested using modern methods.

"Today's DNA testing can use almost infinitesimal samples and replicate the DNA to create an amount that's testable and can do it in a much quicker time," said Kleinschmidt.

Retesting of DNA is permitted under a 2001 state law, but the state challenged the request in this case, saying they had plenty of other evidence pointing to Conner's guilt.

In a landmark ruling, the North Carolina Supreme Court stayed the execution and voted in favor of the test. This opens the door for other similar cases to follow suit.

"In the future this statute will be used in cases where there's a question of guilt and DNA evidence is available, it will be tested," said Kleinschmidt.

If the DNA test is negative, Conner could be awarded a new trial.

Attorneys said this law could be also be used to retest DNA in criminal cases where the defendants are in prison, but not on death row. It is an example of just how much the judicial system believes DNA is a major component in proving a person's guilt or innocence.


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