SuperSperm: The DNA-Denying Prosecutor

By Balko, Radley | Reason, April 2009 | Go to article overview

SuperSperm: The DNA-Denying Prosecutor


Balko, Radley, Reason


SIX YEARS AGO, Michael Mermel, chief of the criminal division for the Lake County, Illinois, State's Attorney's Office, dismissed DNA tests exonerating Bernie Starks, a man convicted of raping a 68-year-old woman. Starks had been in prison since 1986. The DNA came from semen in the victim's underwear. Had it come from the woman's vagina, Mermel argued at the time, "I would be standing over there advocating the side that the defense has in the case."

Actually, he wouldn't. Three years later, crime lab workers found a missing rape kit from the case, which included a vaginal swab containing semen. A DNA test on the ejaculate again excluded Starks. Mermel, whose odd attitudes toward DNA evidence was chronicled in a December expose by Steve Mills of the Chicago Tribune, again refused to concede. This time, he argued that the woman must have had consensual sex with another man around the same time as the rape. …

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