Tuesday, 8 September 2009

DNA Tests Prove Broward Man Innocent

Yesterday, DNA results were released in the case of Anthony Caravella, a mentally retarded man who was convicted at the young age of 15 of raping and murdering Ada Jankowski in Miramar, Broward County, Florida. Paula McMahon of the South Florida Sun Sentinel reports:

“This means Anthony is innocent, it exonerates him,” said Diane Cuddihy, the Broward chief assistant public defender who reopened Caravella’s case and has been working on it since 2001.

The test, performed by a private lab in Richmond, Calif., eliminated Caravella as a potential source for the sperm found inside the Miramar victim’s body 26 years ago.

The test yielded the DNA profile of an unidentified male that could be checked against genetic databases to see if there’s a match with anyone on file.

While the State will likely argue that this evidence got there through some innocent means, let’s be clear about what we have here. The State convicted Caravella of stabbing the victim to death and raping her in the meantime, despositing his semen inside of her during the crime. Their own lab, in 1983, identified sperm on a swab of material taken from the victim’s vagina. Now, 25 years later, Forensic Science Associates, one of the best private labs in the nation, found some sperm cells on a slide made from the same swab, extracted the DNA from those sperm cells and determined, conclusively, that the sperm could not have come from Anthony Caravella. So we tested the perps sperm and it doesn’t match the defendant, so it means the defendant is not the perp. It is as simple as that, no matter how much the State may try to confuse the issue.

From a scientific standpoint, what is interesting is that when the local crime lab had a crack at this evidence, they got no DNA result. In fact, the Broward County Sheriff’s Office Crime Lab, didn’t even detect semen, despite the fact that lab analysts did see sperm on the tested vaginal swab in 1983.

Everyone in the local law enforcement community is baffled, but should any of us really be surprised at this point? Another point about government-run crime labs that we didn’t mention in our post the other day is that, for unknown reasons, they just are not as good as independent private labs at getting DNA results in these challenging old cases. Maybe it is because the scientist is not as experienced. Or they did not painstakingly search on the slide for microscopically visible sperm cells. Or maybe they just don’t view the importance of the case in the same way as a private lab would. Who knows. All we know is that time and time again, private labs succeed where government-run crime labs have failed.

What we do know, is that when the prosecutor Carolyn McCann says that they need to review the methods of the private lab because the result doesn’t comport with what her lab found, while certainly necessary, she is really only trying to intimate that something is amiss in an attempt to delegitimize the perfectly legit results. The only thing that is amiss, is that we now know a guy has spent 25 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit and no one, except his attorney, is trying to rip down the prison walls to free him.

Another important point about this case, which I suspect will be the focus of ongoing conversations about this case, is Mr. Caravella’s mental retardation (IQ of 67) and how that, combined with coercive and suggestive interrogation methods by law enforcement, led to what DNA results show was a false confession. As we have documented in our policy section of our website, false confessions contributed to a wrongful conviction in about 25% of the DNA exoneration cases nationwide. One of those cases, that of Jerry Frank Townsend, makes this case more troubling because both are Broward cases, both involve law enforcement suggestively interrogating a mentally retarded person until they confess and using that false confession to close cases, and both cases may even involve at least one of the same law enforcement officers.

Congratulations to Mr. Caravella and Diane Cuddihy, his long time attorney for this result. IPF has been in touch with Ms. Cuddihy for a while and will let you know about new developments in this case when they happen. When Caravella is exonerated, he will be the 243rd DNA exoneree nationwide, the 11th in Florida, and the 4th in Broward County alone. Hopefully, the State will do the right thing and right this wrong before too long.


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