DNA testing has led to overturned convictions of people wrongfully sent to prison for crimes they did not commit. In this article, you will encounter cases that became some of the first instances where DNA evidence played a pivotal role in setting people free, confirming innocence, as well as confirming the identity of criminals that got away with murder.
First Overturned Conviction
The first person to receive an overturned conviction with the help of DNA evidence was Gary Dotson in 1989 , a Chicago man who was accused of rape and aggravated kidnapping.
First Canadian DNA Evidence Case
The first Canadian convicted of a crime because of DNA evidence was Allan Legere, who had committed four murders while he was an escaped prisoner in 1989. During his trial, his defense team argued that a relatively shallow gene pool of the region could have resulted in false positives. His conviction came in 1991.
Identifying Deceased Criminals
Sometimes, DNA evidence can confirm the identity of a criminal that was never brought to justice. In 1992, DNA evidence was used to prove that Josef Mengele (a Nazi doctor) was buried under a different name (Wolfgang Gerhard) in Brazil.
It is not always the DNA of a human that is used to seal the fate of a criminal. In 1992, the DNA from a palo verde tree was used to convict Mark Alan Bogan of murder. It was the DNA from seed pods of the tree that were found at a crime scene that matched the seed pods found in Bogan’s truck. This would mark the first time that plant DNA was accepted as a strong piece of evidence in a criminal case.
Nine Years Later”¦
The rape and murder of Mia Zapata (the lead singer of a Seattle punk band) went unsolved for nine years after she was laid to rest in 1993. In 2001, a database search had failed, but the killer’s DNA was collected when he was arrested in Florida for committing burglary and domestic abuse in 2002.
The O.J. Simpson Trial
One of the most infamous cases where DNA evidence was heavily used in a criminal trial was in 1994 , when football legend O.J. Simpson was accused of murdering his wife and another man. The prosecution relied on the use of DNA evidence to prove their case. Throughout the process, the fact that mishandling of evidence and lab inconsistencies can significantly alter the course of a trial and the validity of DNA evidence was brought to light.
Non-Human Use of DNA
Who would have thought that the hairs from a cat could be used to convict a man for the crime of murdering his wife? In 1994, that is exactly what happened when Royal Canadian Mounted Police detectives successfully tested the hairs from the feline as a way to link the criminal with the crime. This was the first time in forensic history that the use of non-human DNA had identified a criminal.