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Pennsylvania death row inmate Nicholas James Yarris has been insisting for years that DNA tests would prove that he is innocent of a 1981 rape and murder, and now the team of lawyers handling his federal appeal say that results of recent tests — the third set of DNA tests performed on the same evidence — prove that Yarris has been telling the truth all along. In a motion filed in U.S. District Court on Monday, Yarris’ lawyers called the new test results “stunning” and asked Chief U.S. District Judge James T. Giles to set Yarris free on bail. “One thing is now clear: Mr. Yarris should not be required to spend another moment behind bars, much less on death row. He is innocent of this offense and should be freed,” Assistant Federal Defenders Christina Swarns, Michael Wiseman and Stuart Lev wrote in a brief joined by attorney Peter Goldberger. But as of Monday afternoon, prosecutors in the Delaware County District Attorney’s Office had not conceded that the tests prove Yarris is not guilty or even that he deserves a new trial. In a statement, District Attorney G. Michael Green said, “DNA testing results in and of themselves do not establish Yarris’ innocence, nor do these results indicate a wrongful conviction.” Instead, the statement said only that the new test results “warrant our further investigation.” The DA’s office said that it would be holding a press conference Tuesday to discuss the case, but the statement did not say whether prosecutors will be announcing any decision at that time. Yarris’ case was a high-profile one due to the nature of the crime. The victim, 32-year-old Linda Mae Craig, was abducted in December 1981 from the parking lot of the Tri-State Mall in Delaware, where she had been working part time to earn Christmas money for her three children. Her snow-covered body was found the next day, not far from her home in Upper Darby. If the prosecutors decide to contest the new DNA test results, Giles will be forced to decide whether Yarris deserves a new trial or if the new evidence is so strong that it warrants setting him free. But even if Giles sides with Yarris completely, it may not lead to his immediate release due to a 30-year sentence he received in Florida as a result of a crime spree in 1985 after Yarris succeeded in escaping from sheriffs who were transporting him from a state prison in Huntingdon to an appeal hearing in Delaware County. Yarris had convinced the deputies he had to use the bathroom and eluded them at a gas station when he managed to unlock his handcuffs and flee the public restroom. He was captured 25 days later in Volusia County, Fla., in a stolen car. He was convicted in Florida on charges of armed robbery, grand theft and possessing a gun as a convicted felon. But Yarris’ lawyers said Monday that the latest DNA tests could also lead to a reduction of the Florida sentence because the lengthy prison term was directly related to Yarris’ status as a convicted rapist and murderer. Now that Yarris must be considered innocent of that crime, they said, the Florida courts may be willing to say that the 21 years he served on death row is punishment enough. In court papers filed Monday, Yarris’ lawyers say the latest DNA tests — performed by nationally renown DNA expert Edward Blake of Forensic Science Associates in Richmond, Calif. — prove that three evidence samples do not match Yarris’ DNA profile. According to the brief, Blake concluded that Yarris was not the source of sperm samples from Craig’s underpants, skin taken from under her fingernails or evidence retrieved from a glove that prosecutors said the assailant had worn during the attack. Defense lawyers said results from two earlier sets of DNA tests were labeled “inconclusive.” Now, with advances in technology, they said, Blake was able to perform conclusive tests on the remaining morsels of evidence. If the DA’s office decides to contest the results, it could lead to a court battle over the reliability of the new DNA testing procedure — a technique called polymerase chain reaction, or PCR. The old technology, called “DNA fingerprinting,” compares a suspect’s DNA with the genetic material in blood or semen found at a crime site. With PCR testing, the DNA is amplified, permitting information to be obtained even from samples that are minuscule, many years old or damaged by storage conditions. So far, courts in at least 17 states, including Pennsylvania, have allowed PCR evidence, but no Pennsylvania appellate court has yet approved the technique

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