A man who served almost 20 years in prison for a rape he didn’t commit was finally freed after DNA evidence in his case was reexamined using modern-day testing practices. The exoneration of Kerry Robinson by the Georgia Innocence Project highlights the biases and fallibility of the old DNA testing procedures and the need to reexamine convictions that were founded upon this evidence.
In 2002, Robinson was convicted of breaking into a woman’s house in Colquitt County and raping her. He was sentenced to twenty years to serve in prison. The victim of the rape never identified him. However, there was a co-defendant in the case who the victim did identify. This co-defendant made a deal with the prosecution for a lighter sentence and testified that Robinson committed the rape along with him. Robinson believed that the co-defendant falsely accused him of being part of the crime in retaliation after Robinson had reported him to the police in an unrelated case.
The only other evidence in the case was the testimony at trial of the DNA analyst from the GBI who analyzed the mixture of DNA in the rape kit and determined that it likely contained the DNA of four people. It was undisputed that this mixture contained the DNA of the victim and the testifying co-defendant. The GBI analyst explained that there were two remaining DNA markers that were a match to Robinson. Although the analyst initially testified that the DNA results were inconclusive as to Robinson, he later changed his testimony and stated that there was a “very, very low likelihood” that the remaining DNA was not Robinson’s.
The Innocence Project retained forensic scientist Dr. Greg Hampikian of Boise State University to reexamine the DNA evidence using the modern TrueAllele genotyping system. Dr. Hampikian conclusively determined that Robinson’s DNA was not contained in the mixture from the rape kit. Dr. Hampikian also included Robinson’s case in a study he was conducting on bias in interpretations of DNA mixtures. As part of the study, he asked 17 DNA analysts to examine the evidence. 16 of the analysts agreed that the mixture did not contain Robinson’s DNA. Incidentally, the GBI adopted the TrueAllele testing system in 2018.
As a result, the Innocence Project filed an Extraordinary Motion for New Trial based on the new test results. The District Attorney then reviewed the new evidence and agreed to join in the motion and help correct Robinson’s wrongful conviction.
Dr. Hampikian pointed to his study which focused on the subjectivity and bias that previously existed in forensic mixture interpretation. He explained that with mixtures containing the DNA of several people, it is very common for the DNA of most people to match at least some of the genetic markers in the sample. To illustrate this point, Dr. Hampikian took the DNA of four staff members at a local news station and compared it to the rape kit. All four of them matched the DNA mixture from the rape kit with at least as many genetic markers as Robinson.
Robinson’s exoneration exposes the flaws in past DNA testing procedures as well in the subjective expert testimony that has been relied up on by prosecutors to secure convictions throughout the years. Misleading expert testimony like that in Robinson’s case has undoubtedly led to many wrongful convictions. Hopefully, with the help of the Innocence Project, other convictions based on alleged matches from DNA mixtures will be reexamined with the TrueAllele system so that others who have been wrongfully convicted can be exonerated.