DNA sequencing

Newswise — Following motions brought by the Montana Innocence Project (MTIP), Montana District Court Judge Kathy Seeley has overturned the 1995 robbery, kidnapping, and homicide convictions of Fred Lawrence and Paul Jenkins. The two men had received life sentences.

In 2014, biology professor Greg Hampikian’s laboratory at Boise State University began working with the MTIP on DNA testing in the case. The MTIP filed petitions for DNA testing with affidavits from Hampikian beginning in 2015. The MTIP also discovered other new evidence including the admissions of another man, David Nelson. DNA matching Nelson was later identified on a rope found near the victim’s body, mixed with the victim’s blood.

Judge Seeley wrote “No DNA linked to Jenkins and Lawrence was found. The result…matches the DNA of David Nelson—a man known to have committed similar violent kidnappings, robberies, and, in Deer Lodge, homicides.” 

The State of Montana now must decide whether it will re-try Lawrence and Jenkins, or whether it will proceed against Nelson.

Larry Mansch, legal director for the MTIP thanked the team and said, “I particularly commend Dr. Greg Hampikian of the Idaho Innocence Project, who provided critical testimony and analysis regarding the DNA evidence.”

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Hampikian’s work was performed under his Kirk Bloodsworth Post-Conviction DNA Testing Program grant from the U.S. Department of Justice. The Boise State team used TrueAllele software by Cybergenetics to develop profiles from key evidence. 

“The DNA corroborates the witnesses’ testimony that now clearly points to David Nelson,” Hampikian said.

“I have been waiting for this moment for many, many years,” said Fred Lawrence. “I am very grateful for the amazing and dedicated work of the Montana Innocence Project. Their lawyers, experts, and investigators worked tirelessly on my behalf. Thank God for the Innocence Project.”

The Boise State project was supported by Grant No. 2016-DY-BX-0006 awarded by the Bureau of Justice Assistance. The Bureau of Justice Assistance is a component of the U.S. Department of Justice's Office of Justice Programs, which also includes the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the National Institute of Justice, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, the Office for Victims of Crime, and the SMART Office. Points of view or opinions in this document are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.