Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Keating Signs Measure Authorizing Program to Conduct DNA Testing

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Keating Signs Measure Authorizing Program to Conduct DNA Testing

Article excerpt

A bill signed by Gov. Frank Keating authorizes the Oklahoma Indigent Defense System to conduct DNA tests in cases where it could prove the innocence of prison inmates.

"In the wake of so many highly publicized DNA-related cases throughout the country, this bill is essential to guard against the injustice of an innocent person being wrongfully convicted, imprisoned or executed," Keating said Tuesday.

The Oklahoma Indigent Defense System will receive $250,000 to administer the testing program.

The program, authored by Sen. Dick Wilkerson, D-Atwood, and Rep. Jari Askins, D-Duncan, covers only indigent inmates.

It creates a DNA Forensic Testing Program within the Oklahoma Indigent Defense System until July 1, 2005, to investigate, screen and present to prosecutors any claim that scientific evidence will demonstrate that a person convicted of a felony offense is factually innocent.

Under Senate Bill 1381, the indigent defense system will investigate cases and arrange for the forensic testing, either by the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation or the appropriate agency of the city in which the offense was committed.

"This is a very important measure for Oklahoma to assure that the guilty, and only the guilty, spend a day in jail, much less suffer the loss of their life," said Keating.

Attorney General Drew Edmondson spoke in favor of the bill.

"Our office was very concerned that anybody who is factually and actually innocent serve any time, much less run any risk of being executed," said the attorney general.

At the same time, Edmondson said, it was important that the testing be conducted not as part of a new round of appeals, but within the context of existing appellate rights.

"It was a compromise that was struck in the best example of how government should work, and I was proud to have played a part in it," he added.

Although a key concern of backers of such legislation is ensuring that innocent individuals are not executed for crimes they did not commit, Keating said that use of the death penalty is very rare. He pointed out that since 1977, there have been 8,000 homicides, and only 29 executions. …

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