Student Case Update: Erie Murder Conviction

As wrongful convictions are studied, it becomes clear that such injustices share similar causes—misidentification, coerced confessions, scientific errors, and other issues. Sometimes, though, there isn’t just one issue. Sometimes, the pieces just don’t fit.

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In 1993, the man whose file I am reviewing was convicted of murder in Erie County, PA. The victim, a woman, was found alone in her car, strangled and the victim of an apparent violent and bloody fight. No-one saw the murder. There was no eyewitness identifying the man as the one who murdered the victim. No confession. No forensic evidence linked him to the murder at all.

The case seemed stacked against this man from the start. He and the victim had recently ended a romantic relationship and they worked together at a local factory. Despite the breakup, the two remained friends. On the night she was killed, the victim stayed after work with the man to help him while he closed up; he was the last person seen with the victim before she was killed. The victim was found dead in her car on the side of a road within a mile of the factory and of her home.

At first, I cleared the case through the basic screening—post-conviction relief exhausted, still serving sentence, Pennsylvania conviction. The letter he first sent stood out. There was something about this conviction that did not seem right to me, so I set out to confirm what he had said. The more I looked into the case, the more the case seemed to fall apart, based seemingly upon unreliable, flimsy evidence.  This is one case where the pieces just don’t fit. There was no forensic evidence to connect this man to the murder. The investigation was filled with holes. The trial was riddled with impermissible evidence. It shouldn’t add up to a conviction, but does it mean he’s innocent?

The next steps will be to finish investigation and file a motion to test DNA evidence. It is my belief that no DNA evidence will connect this man to the scene of the crime, and will, in fact, exclude him. In recent years, DNA testing has required fewer and fewer cells to get a conclusive result. In the twenty years since DNA testing has been used, we are able to obtain DNA evidence from the most unlikely places. My goal is to test what has been overlooked from the crime scene to show that the pieces of the case against my client just didn’t fit.

- Lisa C. Brunner, Duquesne University School of Law, Class of 2014

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