Defense attorneys question methods in search for man who killed 81-year-old woman
Known violent criminals are being asked to give DNA samples to prove they are not the person who fatally stabbed an 81-year-old woman in her Farmington apartment, according to a Lewiston attorney.
Investigators have identified a DNA sample from the suspected killer; a male who they believe cut his hands during the home invasion on June 21, when Grace Burton was killed, according to Farmington Police Chief Jack Peck.
Police are seeking a match for the suspect's DNA by asking men to voluntarily submit a sample, Peck said.
A criminal defense advocate following the case, however, has questions about how the samples are being collected and, if necessary, how they will be used in court.
More than 70 samples taken so far have eliminated most of the men as suspects, with police still waiting late last week for test results for some of the samples, Peck said.
There has been just one man who refused to give a DNA sample without first consulting with an attorney, and it was still unclear last week if he had submitted a sample, according to Peck and the man's attorney, William B. Cote, the Lewiston attorney.
The man who refused to give a sample is awaiting trial for an assault charge, according to Cote.
Cote refused to name his client because he doesn't match descriptions of the alleged killer, he said.
"I don't think he is a genuine suspect," Cote said, referring to his client.
His client has no cuts on his hands and is much taller than the suspect, who police have said is a slightly built 5-foot, 7-inch male, according to Cote. He would not talk about the advice he gave his client, calling it confidential legal advice.
Investigators told Cote they may have the killer's DNA and they are trying to collect samples from people who have a history of violent behavior, he said.
"They are attempting to exclude as suspects a variety of individuals in the Farmington area who at least have a history of violence," Cote said.
Sarah Churchill, president of the Maine Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, said she has concerns about whether the men understand the consequences of submitting a DNA sample without first talking to an attorney.
They may be confused by police requests for a sample, most often a swab inside a person's mouth, and feel undue pressure to comply without consulting an attorney, Churchill said.
People unfamiliar with their legal rights and unfamiliar with police tactics may be afraid to deny the requests, because that denial may appear suspicious, she said.
"I do have some concern about what pressure the (suspect) may feel under that circumstance," she said.
Police can ask someone to voluntarily give a DNA sample, but people have the right to deny the request and seek advice from an attorney, Churchill said.
Law enforcement has to get a search warrant from a judge to get a sample when someone denies the request, according to Churchill, who is with the advocacy group for criminal defense issues in Maine.
There may also be a legitimate reason someone's DNA is found at a crime scene, she said. For example, they can be innocent of the crime but linked to the scene by their DNA because they know the person and have spent time at the home, Churchill said.
An attorney can make police aware of the reasons a client's DNA may show up at the scene to avoid unwarranted suspicion, she said.
Whenever DNA evidence is vital to an arrest, defense attorneys have concerns about everything from how the original sample taken from the scene was handled to what people are being asked by police seeking samples, Churchill said.
Contaminated samples, pressure placed on suspects to submit DNA and other issues can result in the evidence being ruled inadmissible by a judge, she said.
Peck said the men are being asked to give a DNA sample based on tips from the public, interviews with investigators and other evidence.
He said investigators tell the men the sample is for the homicide investigation, and that it's being used to exclude them as a suspect.
Some of the men who gave samples approached police and asked to be tested so they can be eliminated as a suspect, he said.
"People have come up to me and said 'Hey Jack, I want to give a (DNA) sample, I want to be excluded,'" Peck said.
Churchill said people should be aware of the conclusions that can be drawn from DNA evidence before they volunteer to give a sample.
She gave one example of when she would advise someone to give a sample before consulting an attorney.
"If the client is adamant that they were never at the scene and don't know the person, they can give a sample," she said.
By David Robinson, 861-9287, firstname.lastname@example.org
Source: The Kennebec Journal