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DNA evidence used to convict, exonerate suspects in Johnia Berry murder

Hank Hayes • Sep 25, 2007 at 12:00 AM

DNA evidence could help convict Taylor Olson, the accused killer of East Tennessee State University graduate Johnia Berry.

But DNA samples can also set people free in criminal matters.

The potential for DNA to exonerate, as well as convict, offenders has led to specific statutes in a growing number of states to allow for post-conviction DNA testing under certain circumstances, even after the convicted person has exhausted all of his or her appeals, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL).

The NCSL says the processes being created under new laws allow judges broader authority to order or admit DNA evidence after convictions.

A 2001 Tennessee law expands the list of offenders eligible for post-conviction DNA testing from those sentenced to death to any offender convicted of and sentenced for any criminal offense.

All 50 states require that convicted sex offenders provide a DNA sample, and states are increasingly expanding these policies to include all felons or many serious felony offenders. To date, 44 states require that all convicted felons provide a DNA sample to the state’s database, including Tennessee.

Tennessee lawmakers also passed a law in the last legislative session — named for Johnia Berry — to require DNA testing for any person arrested for a violent felony after Jan. 1, 2008.

“We want to try to expand this to help as many people in the future as possible,” said House GOP Leader Jason Mumpower, who sponsored the House version of the law.

DNA databases in all states today are connected to the National DNA Index System, which is run by the FBI for federal and state information sharing.

Olson’s arrest was announced Monday by the Knox County Sheriff’s Office (KCSO). The KCSO collected more than 400 DNA samples in investigating Berry’s 2004 death in West Knoxville.

Olson was charged with violating his probation on July 27 and voluntarily submitted his DNA, according to the KCSO. His criminal history includes being charged with credit card theft and forgery in Sevierville in May 2005. In Knox County, he was charged with failure to give information and render aid, driving without a valid driver’s license, and harassment in 2004. In 2007 he was charged with aggravated burglary and theft.

For more go to www.ncsl.org.

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