A Pioneer's Memoir

By Kaye, David H. | Judicature, September/October 2008 | Go to article overview

A Pioneer's Memoir


Kaye, David H., Judicature


A pioneer's memoir by David H. Kaye

Justice and Science: Trials and Triumphs of DNA Evidence, by George "Woody" Clarke. Rutgers University Press. 2008. 256 pages. $24.95.

When judges and lawyers first heard about the "almost magical technique" of DNA profiling, they were stunned. In 1988, a trial court in New York declared that "if DNA Fingerprinting works and receives evidentiary acceptance, it can constitute the single greatest advance in the 'search for truth' and the goal of convicting the guilty and acquitting the innocent since the advent of cross-examination." Soon afterward, another New York trial court judge (Gerald Sheindlin) described his struggle to evaluate this novel evidence in Blood Trail: True Crime Mysteries Solved by DNA Detectives.

Now, a short book2 by San Diego County Superior Court Judge George "Woody" Clarke provides vignettes of cases and developments in DNA spanning the last 20 or so years. It is a fitting memoir penned by one of the legal pioneers who introduced prosecutors to DNA evidence. The stories Clarke tells - with modesty and enthusiasm - of his days as a prosecutor recreate the excitement and accomplishments of a technology that has been, and continues to be, the most thoroughly vetted and studied in the checkered history of forensic science. The cases and events he showcases are not just those in which DNA helped him and colleagues in the San Diego District Attorney's office secure convictions, but also those in which they came to realize that innocent men had been accused or convicted. Clarke's account of these matters provides insight into prosecutorial trial strategies and tactics, and, more broadly, the operation of the American system of criminal justice.

A shocking story

One of the most shocking stories is that of the Wade family. Since there are many other cases mentioned in the book, it won't give too much away if I describe the highlights. In 1989, eight-year-old Alicia was abducted from her bedroom in San Diego, molested, then returned there. The assault only became known after she complained to her mother that it hurt when she went to bathroom. Her parents took her to a clinic, where the examining physician found injuries that prompted a call to Child Protective Services (CPS) and the San Diego police. To the consternation of her parents, CPS soon placed Alicia in foster care, where she was cycled through three foster homes. More than a year later, she told her psychotherapist, ironically named Goodfriend, that her father, James, had attacked her. James then was charged with lewd and lascivious acts causing great bodily injury.

After reading the records of the therapy sessions - obtained by James's defense counsel - the prosecutor "was convinced that they showed Alicia had been brainwashed" by Dr. Goodfriend (p. 72). He turned to the crime lab to see if it could find something to confirm his impression. Using new equipment, a criminalist discovered a semen stain on the girl's nightshirt that had not been detected earlier. An early form of DNA testing excluded James as the source of the semen. The prosecutor's office moved for its charges to be dismissed, and the judge made a factual finding that James was innocent.

Yet, CPS persisted in its efforts to terminate parental custody. Alicia's mother attempted suicide. The parents ultimately prevailed in juvenile court. Goodfriend lost her license and paid $1 million toward the settlement of the family's tort action against her and others involved in the case.

The criminal case turned to Albert Carder, who by then was in prison for assaulting other girls in the same neighborhood. In one case, a young girl was removed through her bedroom window, driven away, and sexually assaulted just five days after Alicia was abducted. But police did not make the connection at the time. DNA testing conducted for the district attorney's office eventually "showed that Carder could be the person who left the stain" and "[t]he chance that someone other than Carder is that person [is] less than one in three million. …

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