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Boise State researchers aid in exonerations

According to the Sentencing Project’s website, incarcerated populations in the United States have increased 500 percent in the last 40 years. What’s the end of result of that increase? A nation with 2.2 million incarcerated peoples. With new breakthroughs in forensic science, it has been discovered that many of these inmates have been wrongly convicted.

CBS’s “48 Hours” aired a program Saturday, Feb. 4 discussing the exoneration of Daryl Pinkins and Roosevelt Glen, two men wrongly convicted in a multiple-assailant rape case in 1989 who walked free last year with the help of Dr. Greg Hampikian, professor in the Department of Biological Science and Department of Criminal Justice.

Dr. Hampikian is the founder of The Idaho Innocence Project. Their mission is, “to correct and prevent wrongful convictions through research, education and litigation,” according to The Idaho Innocence Project’s website. The project has worked inexhaustibly in cases like Pinkins and Glen, who were arrested in 1989 and sentenced to 65 and 36 years in prison, respectively, after a misinterpreted blood-type match surfaced in a crime lab associated with the case.

“I dreamt of a professor in law school coming to my rescue,” Glen said in the 48 hours episode. “I used to see it on TV all the time. Then one day I said ‘I got my dream team.’”

That team included Dr. Hampikian and his team at Idaho Innocence Project.

“They thought these guys were guilty. They got tunnel vision,” Hampikian said. “They had alibis, but the courts just discounted that.”

In 1999, Pinkins wrote to the Idaho Innocence Project, pleading for assistance.

“This car is bumped, five guys rape (the victim), they leave a pair of overalls from a particular mill in Gary Indiana. Well, they’re a particular guy’s overalls,” said Hampikian.

The clothing had been stolen from a car the men were in that had broken down on the highway the night of the rapes. The car window had been smashed and items stolen, including the overalls which were found at the crime scene and collected, along with clothing from the victim that had semen from her attackers. The state performed blood typing on the semen mixture and got a very general result that included, as potential contributors, nearly all caucasian individuals and about 70 percent of African American individuals. 

According to Boise State Forensic DNA Analyst Gianluca Peri, DNA transfer to clothing in common.

“It’s very simple. There can be different kinds of contacts. Two objects can come into contact directly, like me touching this bench. Also, in a more indirect way, if I touch the bench and you touch it after me, you can potentially carry with you some of my DNA. That’s called a secondary transfer.”

Sometimes it isn’t a matter of transfer, but boils down to a court’s choice to include the evidence.

“When Pinkins and Glenn heard that the police would be DNA testing the semen mixture, they said ‘Great! What do you need?’ And when the DNA tests, which are far more specific than blood typing, excluded them from the semen, they thought they would be going home.” said Hampikian. “25 years later, Daryl Pinkins did.”

Prosecutors involved in the case were 100% sure that Daryl Pinkins was a joint-perpetrator of the crime due to the blood type “match” that linked him to the semen evidence, but the better DNA analysis excluded him.  Still, the prosecutor used the blood-type evidence at trial.  During their 10 years on the case, Hampikian’s team requested other evidence to be DNA tested including a hair recovered from the victim, which also excluded all the suspects.  Still the prosecutors and the courts did not budge.  Finally, Hampikian teamed with Mark Perlin, the inventor of new software based on probabilistic genotyping, which can sense acute differentiations in DNA data to help more accurately link a piece of DNA evidence to its potential owners.

That analysis was going to be the substance of a court hearing asking for a new trial, but the results convinced the prosecutor that no hearing was needed, and Darryl Pinkins was finally freed.  As a result, his alleged co-conspirator who also was excluded from all DNA evidence in the case. Roosevelt Glenn was cleared of his conviction just last week.

“No one’s used probabilistic genotyping to free someone, we’re the first ones to do it.”

Unfortunately, freedom is often step one in the process towards rehabilitating the lives devastated by these wrongful convictions.

“Roosevelt Glen gets out after 15 years for time served, good behavior and he’s listed as a sex offender–then last week he’s cleared officially,  but sex offender websites still list him.  Pinkins spent 25 years in prison” said Hampikian.  “Then there’s the question of just trying to get them some compensation. There’s no compensation in (Indiana). (Pinkins) gets out, and he has no job training–but he’s strong and wants to work.”

Hampikian and his team are working to advocate for people like Glen and Pinkins. More information about their organization can be found on the Idaho Innocence Project’s Facebook page.

4 Comments on Boise State researchers aid in exonerations

  1. Chris Peterson // Feb 8, 2017 at 8:11 am // Reply

    Well written article. Sadly, there ARE many imprisoned who do not belong there. Even after being released, there is a stigma that they will deal with the rest of their lives. I know this, I have a sibling who experienced this very thing. He was incarcerated for 89 days, tazed and treated terribly for something he did not do. They finally “allowed” him to be released and he has a mark of “felon” on his record for something he did not do. It is sickening!

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