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The nation’s first criminal convicted through the use of DNA is seeking a new trial based on more advanced technology, sparking yet another debate over the reliability of DNA evidence. The defendant, Tommie Lee Andrews of Florida, argues that the DNA testing standards used to convict him of rape in 1988 produced inconclusive results and that today’s more advanced methods will exonerate him. Florida v. Andrews (Orange Co., Fla., Cir. Ct.). Lawyers specializing in DNA cases say the Andrews case highlights a growing phenomenon in the courts, in which the legal world is struggling to keep pace with the scientific one, especially in the area of DNA testing. “This technology is not standing still. It is constantly evolving … and we know that the technology is continuing to evolve and continuing to tell us more and more about the actual perpetrators of crime,” said Jennifer Greenberg, an attorney with the Florida Innocence Initiative at Florida State University. Orange County Assistant Prosecutor Jeff Ashton, who prosecuted Andrews, said he has no problem with retesting the evidence. “I have every confidence that the retest is going to be further proof that it’s him,” he said. While Ashton admits that science has come a long way since Andrews’ conviction, he maintains that the old DNA methods were reliable. He said courts need to be cautious of criminals who would take advantage of DNA advances and seek unwarranted new trials. “I think there’s got to be a point where we say, ‘Yeah, science is a little better now, but there has to be some finality to a case,’” Ashton said. For Andrews, that finality will only come with retesting, said Christopher Smith of the Law Offices of Christopher Smith in Orlando, Fla., Andrews’ court-appointed lawyer. “If I’m the defendant, and I feel that the previous test was not accurate scientifically, I’m hoping the second test will refute the first,” Smith said. “Mr. Andrews is confident that he’ll be acquitted.” Andrews, who is in prison for 40 years for two rapes, has long maintained his innocence, Smith said. Andrews is appealing a 1988 conviction in which the jury’s decision was based primarily on DNA evidence that included a vaginal smear and blood samples. At trial, the victim identified Andrews as her attacker. Andrews’ family members testified that he was with them on the night of the attack in May 1986. According to Smith, the DNA evidence used at trial still exists. A hearing will be held on March 8 to determine whether the evidence can be retested. Smith said modern testing analyzes smaller DNA samples and is more discriminating in excluding a greater portion of the population when isolating characteristics unique to an individual. Assistant State Attorney Dick Jucknath said he has already replied in court papers that he will not object to retesting. “If evidence exists and the DNA people say we can examine it, then that’s what we’re going to do,” Jucknath said. “I think it will confirm [the conviction].” Jucknath said one of the reasons he agreed to a retest is because the initial DNA test was performed by a private company. Today’s testing is all done by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, he said.

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