Tennessee Supreme Court Allows for DNA Test

On June 16, the Tennessee Supreme Court overturned the ruling of a lower court allowing for Rudolph Powers to finally get DNA testing that could prove his innocence. Powers has spent 30 years in a Tennessee prison on two rape convictions. At the age of 21, he was arrested in Memphis near a shopping center where he worked. He has always maintained that he was misidentified by the victims and did not commit the rapes. Powers was sentenced to life and 50 years to run consecutively. He is now 51 years old.

Prosecutors argued to the Court that even if DNA results taken from one of the rape kits excluded Powers, the test wouldn’t prove innocence because the evidence could have come from a consensual sexual partner of the victim. Lower courts agreed with prosecutors, but the state Supreme Court overturned their rulings, finding that DNA results linking the semen to someone else would cast major doubt on his conviction

Craig Cooley, staff attorney with the Innocence Project and Powers’ attorney, reacted to the news of the court’s decision saying, “I’m ecstatic. I always thought we had the law and common sense on our side.”

According to the Innocence Project, of the 272 post-conviction DNA exonerations in the United States, eyewitness misidentification testimony was a factor in 75% of these cases, making it the leading cause of wrongful conviction. False confessions and incriminating statements led to wrongful convictions in 25% of cases. Other factors include unvalidated or improper forensic science and relying on the testimony of jailhouse snitches. 

These DNA exonerations provide irrefutable proof that wrongful convictions are not rare events, and neither are they isolated, having occurred in 34 states. Still, though DNA is an amazing tool, many cases do not have DNA evidence available to test. Since 1973, 138 individuals have been released from death rows nationwide when evidence of their wrongful convictions emerged. However, DNA was a factor in only 17 of these cases.
If Mr. Powers had received a death sentence, he would likely, after 30 years, have already been executed by the state of Tennessee.  We cannot risk the execution of the innocent by continuing to use the death penalty. Two men who spent 20 years each on Tennessee’s death row were freed when the courts finally heard the evidence of their wrongful convictions–including DNA. Other inmates in Tennessee, like Clark McMillan, have also been released because  of DNA evidence after serving decades in prisons for crimes that they didn’t commit. There is too much room for error in our current system to justify the use of the death penalty with alternative sentencing available.
Finally, Rudolph Powers will now get his test and his day in court.
Read more.         

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