What the review of 14,000 DNA cases really means.
Background: From 2010-2015, the Innocence Project of Minnesota (IPMN) partnered on a Department of Justice grant with the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office, the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and the Office of the Minnesota State Public Defender. IPMN was the organizational leader on this statewide initiative. In 2012, the Minnesota County Attorney’s Association joined this group. The purpose of this grant was to review over 14,000 cases occurring from roughly 1981-1999 to ascertain whether there were any cases where DNA testing could prove innocence.
On April 27th, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman called a press conference to announce the results of the grant. He did not consult with grant partners from the State Public Defender’s Office or IPMN about the conference. At the press conference, Mr. Freeman stated that after a thorough review of 14,177 cases, not a single case involved a DNA exoneration. This statement is inaccurate and misleading. In fact, there was a DNA exoneration in that group of cases, but the exoneration occurred prior to the grant and was in fact brought about by the work of the Ramsey County Attorney’s Office.
Key Takeaway: This grant review only reviewed cases in which DNA testing could provide proof of innocence. Absolutely no case review or investigation was done to determine if other proof of innocence could be found. For example: the 14,000 cases were not reviewed for potential perjured witness testimony or flawed forensic science (non-DNA) leading to wrongful conviction as we have seen in other Minnesota exoneration cases.
Detailed Grant Case Review Clarification
- The vast majority of cases (over 13,500) received minimal review because it was clear from initial case screening and/or investigation that the case involved no DNA.
- The roughly 13,500 cases that were quickly excluded as non-DNA cases included, but were not limited to, drive-by shootings, sexual assault cases where no biological material would have remained from the perpetrator, cases where the defense was consent or self-defense (so the presence of DNA would be irrelevant), and a large number of cases in which no biological evidence was ever collected.
- DNA testing was completed in just 21 cases.
- In 12 of these cases, DNA testing did not prove anything, either because no DNA profile was developed or the only DNA profile found belonged to the victim.
- In 8 of these cases, results provided further proof of the defendant’s guilt.
- In one case, DNA proved innocence but has not lead to an exoneration – yet (see Billy Glaze information below).
- In 22 cases where DNA testing could have proven innocence, the evidence was lost or destroyed by the courts or law enforcement.
- None of the above cases were reviewed for innocence in any other context outside of DNA testing, as DNA testing was the focus of the grant and the review being conducted.
Grant Case Review Results
- Billy Glaze was proven innocent through this review.
- Although only one innocent person was found through the review of cases under this grant, 11 known exonerations have occurred in MN since 1989.
- 7 of those were from the time period of the grant
- 1 was a DNA exoneration handled by the Ramsey County Attorney’s Office. Details on this case can be found here.
- There has also been 1 federal exoneration from Minnesota since 1989.
- 3 of these 11 exonerees are currently before the legislature seeking compensation that their individual prosecutors agreed they should receive for their wrongful imprisonment. .
Billy Glaze Case (Case Overview)
During the press conference, Mr. Freeman represented that IPMN client Billy Glaze’s case is “over.” However, that is not Mr. Freeman’s determination. Mr. Glaze’s case is before the court and the outcome will be decided by a judge. IPMN continues its fight on Billy’s behalf for a variety of reasons including that the true perpetrator is still at large (not deceased or in prison).
Glaze Case Details with Respect to DNA Grant
- Glaze has not yet been exonerated because his case is still being litigated.
- Based on the DNA testing performed pursuant to this grant, Glaze was excluded from more than 70 DNA tests performed on items collected from the crime scenes.
- The DNA of another man, who is a known rapist convicted of raping a Native American woman during this same time period in Minneapolis, was found at two of the crime scenes.
- Glaze did not confess before trial. Testimony from two well-compensated jailhouse informants was used against him at trial, and the defense proved that these informants told a number of lies. Glaze adamantly denied making any statements to those informants.
- If police had the DNA evidence uncovered through this grant at the time of their investigation, it is likely that the true culprit would be in prison and Billy Glaze would not have died in prison after spending 28 years wrongly imprisoned.
- Neither the Supreme Court nor the Court of Appeals has reviewed Glaze’s case since new DNA evidence was found.