Trial based on old DNA instructive

Prosecutor: 1st acquittal provides lessons about Ohio cases based on tests of old rape-kit DNA


CLEVELAND — A prosecutor in Ohio’s largest county says a recent acquittal in 1993 rape case illustrates some of the challenges authorities may face while pursuing more cases based on testing of DNA from old rape kits.

Cleveland police have sent state labs about 4,000 rape kits for testing, and suburbs have added more.

The trial earlier this month in Cuyahoga County was the first based on DNA from a kit that hadn’t been tested in almost 20 years, The Plain Dealer reported.

The alleged victim, now 60, testified about being raped by a man who hit her with pepper spray, struck her with a brick, and strangled her with a sock.

Evidence presented by the prosecution showed with scientific certainty the defendant’s DNA was found inside the woman, but that genetic evidence didn’t necessarily prove there was a crime.

Assistant County Prosecutor Brian McDonough said he was disappointed the jury found the defendant, a 43-year-old man, not guilty of rape and kidnapping but wouldn’t be deterred as he pursues more cases on DNA evidence.

“I will never be afraid to take a case to trial,” he said. “Each victim deserves her day in court.”

Mr. McDonough talked with jurors after their decision and said they struggled with the idea that the pair could have had consensual sex and the lack of other evidence — such as the brick or the sock — to prove a crime was committed.

“We are stuck with what we have from back then” when it comes to evidence, Mr. McDonough said.

Better evidence collection and casework might help, he said. He also plans to ask more questions during jury selection, given that potential panel members might have biases or misconceptions that affect their perspectives. He’s also considering more expert testimony to clarify complex issues in rape cases.

The defendant’s attorney, Michael O’Shea, maintained his client was innocent. He said that the prosecution did what it could and that he hopes the county works to get justice for victims whose cases haven’t been resolved for decades.

He said there’s also a lesson for other city officials.

“Mayors and city councils need to understand that there can be serious consequences to underfunding or understaffing good police officers in this area,” Mr. O’Shea said. “Give them the resources they need.”