Innocence Project chief to lead DNA study

Published 4:00 pm Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The director of the Mississippi Innocence Project has been chosen to lead a legislative task force that will study better methods for collecting and preserving DNA evidence.

The committee named Tucker Carrington its chairman on Monday during its first meeting.

“I’ll do it with my best effort not to push my agenda. You’re going to have to trust me on that,” said Carrington, a professor and full-time director of the Mississippi Innocence Project located at the University of Mississippi in Oxford.

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Carrington’s group is a chapter of the New York-based Innocence Project that works on behalf of inmates believed to be wrongly convicted. The New York organization’s intervention in a pair of Mississippi cases helped exonerate two Noxubee County men earlier this year.

Kennedy Brewer and Levon Brooks were cleared in separate murder cases involving two toddler girls because of DNA evidence and an alleged confession by a third man.

Their cases, in part, led lawmakers to pass a bill this past regular session to create the task force.

The 23-member panel is expected to present a report by Dec. 1. The members will recommend statewide standards for identification, collection and preservation of DNA, as well as training for law enforcement officers and others who handle that kind of evidence.

Mississippi has no law for DNA collection and preservation so there is no uniformity for how the evidence is handled.

Carrington said the task force would begin collecting data from other states who have adopted DNA laws and determine what would work for Mississippi. One of the priorities would be identifying a funding source to include in the group’s proposals.

The Department of Justice has resources available, but states cannot receive the money until they have DNA legislation, said Carrington.

Rep. Sherra Lane, D-Waynesboro, said if Mississippi began requiring DNA tests, the money would “add up immediately.” She said it’s not a question of money.

“You can’t have anything more important than proven innocent or guilt,” said Lane.