DNA Analysis Exonerates Man Convicted of Rape and Freed From Prison After 17 Years

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Kerry Robinson, 44, hugs his sister Wednesday, seconds after walking out of the Coffee Correctional Facility in southern Georgia. A judge ordered him released earlier in the day.

A man who served 17 years behind bars has been exonerated from his rape conviction and released from a Georgia prison after a new DNA analysis cleared him of the crime. It is a story that we are hearing more and more with the implementation of new DNA technology.

“Modern DNA technology has further confirmed what we’ve known for a long time: Kerry Robinson is an innocent man,” one of his lawyers, Rodney Zell, said in a news release from the Georgia Innocence Project, which helped push for Robinson’s exoneration.

The key to Kerry Robinson’s exoneration was a new analysis of the very DNA evidence that prosecutors used to convict him 17 years ago. The new technology unequivocally showed that the interpretation presented at trial was wrong and that Robinson’s DNA was not actually at the scene. 

The 1993 Rape

 Kelly Robinson’s conviction stemmed from a case in which three young men raped a woman at gunpoint inside of her home. Using a junior high school yearbook, the victim identified one of her attackers who would later be convicted.

After being accused of the rape, that attacker accused Robinson of being involved, which Robinson consistently denied. Robinson believed the attacker pointed the finger at him because Robinson previously reported him to police in a separate investigation. 

The rape victim never identified Robinson as being one of the attackers. 

The Trial 

Robinson went to trial in 2002. The convicted attacker cut a deal and testified against Robinson and received a lesser sentence for his cooperation.

The trial then turned to the DNA evidence collected by police. The DNA contained a mixture of DNA of up to four people, two of whom were the victim and the convicted attacker. 

An “expert” then testified that the minor amount of unaccounted-for DNA had similarities to Robinson’s DNA. The expert testified that at first he could not conclude whether the DNA actually included Robinson’s DNA, but then determined it was unlikely that the similarities could be explained by chance. 

Despite maintaining his innocence, a jury convicted Robinson and he was sentenced to 20 years in prison. 

The Exoneration 

A DNA scientist from Boise State University had been following the Robinson case and sent the DNA to be analyzed by probabilistic genotyping software which is a somewhat new tool that interprets DNA mixtures. This analysis determined a random African American’s DNA is 1,800 times more likely that Robinson’s DNA to explain the evidence mixtures.

After being contacted with the new information, Robinson filed for a new trial in September 2019. However, a fair and open-minded district attorney who was new to the case, reviewed the DNA analysis and supported Robinson in asking a judge to dismiss the charges. 

Without corroboration, Georgia law says that testimony given by an incentivised witness (who receives a lessor sentence), is insufficient for conviction. In Robinson’s case, the DNA was the only corroborating evidence. 

As a result of the new DNA analysis and with the support of the District Attorney, Superior Court Judge Brian McDaniel ruled that the new DNA analysis exonerated Robinson and the conviction was vacated. 

“Fifteen minutes of flawed DNA forensic testimony took almost 18 years to correct in this case,” Hampikian, the Boise State scientist, said Wednesday. “My hope is that labs and lawyers will take notice, and re-examine these complex DNA mixture cases that can mistakenly imprison the innocent.”

With the advent of new technologies, including DNA extraction and analysis, there has been a significant influx of exonerations for those wrongly convicted of heinous crimes. Sadly, for many of the those exonerated, it only comes after decades behind bars and a life destroyed. 

Cory Wilson is a Calgary criminal lawyer serving clients in all of Alberta. If you have been charged with a criminal offence or are a suspect in a criminal investigation, call today for a free, no obligation consultation.