DNA program targets crimes beyond murder
The Colorado Attorney General Office’s DNA testing program that spearheaded Robert Dewey’s exoneration last week has expanded to cover crimes beyond murder, manslaughter and sexual assault.
Senior Assistant Attorney General Julie Selsberg, coordinator of the Colorado Justice Review Project, said her office is in the early stages of a new $1.4 million effort to screen cases that might benefit from DNA testing, all of which are funded by a grant from the National Institute of Justice.
This, after the project’s work on Dewey’s case, the only one among roughly 5,000 Colorado inmates, covering all 64 counties, selected last year for DNA testing of evidence.
“Dewey rose to the surface,” Selsberg said. “We looked at everyone’s case regardless of whether (inmates) wanted it or not.”
Dewey’s case was among 216 from Mesa County reviewed between January 2010 and December 2011. The cases were from 1983 to 2009, including 38 people convicted of murder in Mesa County, 11 for sexual assault and 23 for sexual assault on a child, according to Selsberg.
While murder, manslaughter and sexual-assault convictions were only considered in the review round that led to Dewey’s exoneration, the new effort also will look at crimes of violence and property crimes such as burglary and robbery.
Also new, the review will cover defendants who pleaded guilty to crimes or offered affirmative defenses.
Inmates also will have to request a review. Selsberg said they’ve coordinated with the Colorado Department of Corrections toward educating inmates on how to apply.
The new project started in January and the office is just now starting to see applications trickle in, she said.
“I think the citizens of Colorado can be proud of the criminal justice system here,” Selsberg said. “It’s not perfect, as we saw in Dewey’s case.”
The Colorado Bureau of Investigation billed the attorney general about $7,500, paid by the National Institute of Justice’s initial grant of $1.2 million, to cover time and labor for a forensic scientist and materials used in Dewey’s case.