Tuesday, October 27, 2009

UIS Innocence Project sponsors workshop on Touch DNA Technology

New method could prove helpful in Sangamon County Murder Case

The Downstate Illinois Innocence Project, housed at the University of Illinois Springfield, will be looking at Touch DNA as a vehicle to test pieces of evidence in the Sangamon County murder of Melissa Koontz. The tests could prove to be the break the Project has been looking forward to in order to overturn the conviction of Thomas McMillen.

On Wednesday, October 28 a workshop on Post-conviction DNA Testing: Introducing Touch DNA to Illinois Courtrooms will be held at the University of Illinois at Springfield. The program features the defense team of Timothy Masters. His case was the first exoneration in the US involving Touch DNA. CBS 48 Hours Mystery featured his case in the program Drawn to Murder.

The program will begin with Linda Holloway-Wheeler and Timothy Masters. In June of 1991, Linda was assigned as the lead detective for the Ft. Collins police department’s cold-case homicide investigation of the 1987 murder of Peggy Hettrick. The prime suspect was Timothy Masters. Masters was convicted in 1999 and was sentenced to life in prison. The prosecution pointed to the drawings as the key evidence of guilt.

Featured presenters will be forensic scientists Richard and Selma Eikelenboom who developed the method of Touch DNA testing in Europe. Their sample recovery methods for isolating epithelial skin cells of a perpetrator from the clothing of crime victims was used on the clothing of Peggy Hettrick. The work of the Eikelenbooms led to the recovery of three DNA profiles which matched an individual who was on a short list of suspects in the original investigation. Faced with this evidence in January of 2008, prosecutors agreed to vacate the conviction of Masters. The attorneys and the forensic investigator who convinced the judge in the Masters case to have the testing done will also be present.

Touch DNA is so new that this will be the first workshop focused on Touch DNA in Illinois. Members of the legal profession will be able to received 5.5 continuing legal education credits for attendance at the workshop.

Attending the workshop will be lawyers and student interns who are working on the McMillen case along with students from a UIS class on Conviction of the Innocent.

For more information on the workshop, contact Larry Golden at 217/553-7171 or Bill Clutter at 217/899-4353.

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