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As the luck of the Irish would have it, Marcus Joyce, a law student from County Galway, reported for work in New York in late June as an intern for the Innocence Project and wound up not only helping in the probable exoneration by DNA testing of an accused murderer on death row, but also unearthing an obscure bit of evidence in the defendant’s trial transcript that could, in theory, lead to the real killer. Joyce, 24, from the small coastal town of Renmore in western Ireland and given to understatement, said of his experience, “I’ve had quite a good summer.” Innocence Project staff attorney Colin P. Starger, 34, who asked that certain details of the matter remain unpublicized during delicate negotiations with prosecutors, agreed with Joyce’s assessment. He said exoneration in Joyce’s case is expected to be announced soon by authorities of a southern state not known for the efficacy of its elections. Whether local detectives renew investigation into a particularly ferocious 6-year-old homicide is anybody’s guess. What Joyce learned on June 28 — day one of his internship — was a lesson in new technology for matching samples of deoxyribose nucleic acid (DNA), the foundation of a cell. In the case he was assigned, the so-called short-tandem-repeat test, or STR, ordered in October 2003 showed that DNA matter recovered from the fingernails of a murdered woman who apparently struggled with a knife-wielding assailant in 1997 absolutely did not match the defendant’s genetic code. Under the old procedure available at the time of the crime — a sequence test in which there are fewer comparative genetic markers — a jury was unconvinced of the defendant’s innocence. What Joyce discovered further in combing through the dense trial transcript was the small matter of three hairs plucked from the murder scene by forensic examiners. At trial, the prosecutor said such hair was irrelevant — a mere anomaly of the sort that occurs in any homicide investigation. But when Joyce subjected the hairs to the new STR testing, he found that they were all from the same unknown individual. Working with local out-of-state counsel, Joyce and Starger are now pressing for a whole new round of court-ordered DNA testing. Since the profile from the fingernails matches the hairs, “then we’ve really got the killer here,” said Starger. “And it’s not our client.” The process of freeing their client from prison may run longer than Joyce’s remaining few weeks in America. He will soon leave New York for his final year’s study at the Inns of Court School of Law in London, far from his hometown in Ireland. Although his plan is to become a criminal defense barrister in the United Kingdom — with automatic qualification in Ireland after four years’ practice in the British courts — Joyce will find no direct application abroad for his death penalty experience in the United States. Capital punishment was abolished long ago in western Europe. Yet Joyce is keenly interested in and much appalled by the death penalty in the United States and elsewhere. Why? “Because we don’t have it, and because I don’t ever want it,” he explained. While European political leaders have determined that capital punishment is “uncivilized,” he said, public opinion can be much different, requiring serious people to engage in constant debate. “The desire for a death penalty is based on emotion. It’s a natural, human reaction — exactly why it shouldn’t be allowed,” said Joyce. “The state is supposed to be above normal human emotive reaction.” EYE-FOR-EYE DEBATE In the United States in particular, he said, politicians engage in an “almost biblical eye-for-an-eye” discourse to “look tough.” For example, he noted, then-Gov. Bill Clinton took time out from his 1992 presidential campaign to preside over the Arkansas execution of a young mentally retarded man — bringing with him a press entourage. “You know what [Mahatma] Gandhi thought about eye-for-an-eye,” said Joyce. “He said we’d all soon be blind.” But moralisms from the likes of Gandhi are unlikely to change minds, Joyce acknowledges. When confronted with Europeans who favor capital punishment, he said, “You need to have information and data.” Which is exactly why Joyce sought his internship at the Innocence Project, though he cites a more casual entry. “Some family friends knew Barry and Peter,” said Joyce, referring to Innocence Project co-directors Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld. “I had them put in a good word for me, and that’s how I got it, to be blunt.” Joyce is now able to tick off the relative statistics on violent crime in America, state by state, a recitation he said reveals both the falsity and irony of death penalty law: “Wherever the death penalty is in place, crime rates are significantly higher.” Starger said of his intern, “You see that Marcus is very bright and very committed. It kind of boggles the mind that he’s only 24. He’s so much more mature. He’s taken to [Innocence Project work] like a fish to water. He’s brought energy and different style — especially in writing briefs. “He uses a less confrontational approach,” said Starger. “Instead of saying, ‘The court got it wrong,’ he’ll say, ‘It is respectfully submitted that the lower court ruling does not comport’ — something like that. It’s refreshing.”

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