Media offer to pay for DNA test to prove execution was wrong

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The Independent US

CBS News and three newspapers have offered to pay for DNA testing that could prove for the first time that America executed an innocent man.

CBS News and three newspapers have offered to pay for DNA testing that could prove for the first time that America executed an innocent man.

The offer comes at a time of growing misgivings, not about the principle of the deathpenalty - which continues to enjoy wide support - but over the standards of justice observed in death penalty cases.

The case in question concerns Ellis Wayne Felker, who was convicted by a Georgia state court in 1983 of the rape and murder of a student aged 19, Evelyn Joy Ludlam. Felker's trial lasted five days, and he was executed in 1996. He had steadfastly claimed his innocence.

The new tests would be conducted on evidence that the authorities still have: hair from Felker and his presumed victim, and scrapings from under Ludlam's fingernails. They could begin as early as next Monday.

The district attorney's office that prosecuted the case said the new tests were "a total waste of their time", because the evidence would have deteriorated to the point where it was no longer useful. But it will release the material anyway.

Jim Walls of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, one of the newspapers backing the new tests, said: "We're doing something now that no one else is in a position to do. The defence won't do it after the man's been executed. The prosecution won't do it." The cost is put at between $10,000 and $30,000.

Ben Bradlee Jr of The Boston Globe said that if Felker's innocence could be proved, "it could dramatically alter the terms of the death penalty debate". No one has so far established that an innocent man has been put to death.

While DNA tests have become standard procedure in most new cases, many prosecutors are reluctant to review old cases where DNA evidence might establish a convict's innocence. In many states, the existence of DNA evidence is not sufficient to justify an appeal.

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