Surprise, Surprise: Yet Another Delay In 15-Year-Old DNA Case

Back in January Hair Balls brought you the saga of the seemingly endless DNA case of convicted grandma-killer Charles Raby. He's been on Death Row since 1994, and the DNA challenge has been going on for more than six years. Today's scheduled ruling was pushed back yet again.

Sarah Frazier, Raby's lawyer, had finally won DNA tests on the victim's fingernails. Those turned up traces of an unknown man, and no evidence of Raby.

But this doesn't prove Raby innocent. That's basically what Frazier needed to overturn the conviction, because this isn't a retrial. And the judge has so far prevented Frazier from extrapolating. Three of her planned witnesses were disallowed for being outside the limited scope of the DNA hearing.

Frazier has responded with an offer of proof--a written explanation of what she expected her witnesses to say, had they been called--that picks at the scab that was the Houston crime lab scandal. (An investigation by Michael Bromwich, a former U.S. justice department official, uncovered DNA and blood test results that were manipulated to help with convictions, along with bad science and a host of other problems.)

A recurrent villain in the Bromwich reports is Joseph Chu, who Frazier had hoped to call. He performed the blood tests in Raby's original trial. They show the same thing as Frazier's DNA tests--blood from an unknown person, and not Raby, was under the victim's fingernails. Only Chu didn't say so; he simply called the results inconclusive.

"This gets right to the heart of everything bad that's ever happened in the crime lab," Frazier tells Hair Balls. "Whoever left the blood under the fingernails, there's just no innocent way that this could happen. It points to someone else."

Chu now does evidence intake, not analysis, for the crime lab, according to HPD spokesman John Cannon.

Lynn Hardaway, who's handling the case for the Harris County District Attorney's office, decided to send Chu's lab work and testimony to an outside expert for review.

"We are trying to be as thorough as possible," Hardaway said via email.

The judge has decided to wait for the results. She could still deem them irrelevant. But if she decides that the DNA evidence may have altered the verdict if it were available during the original case, Frazier will win a new trial.

Frazier seems to be hoping that the ugly specter of the crime lab scandal will end up forcing the judge's hand.

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