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Proposed legislation would alter limitation statutes in rape prosecutions

TULSA, Okla. (AP) _ Lawmakers want to modify the statute of limitations on sex crimes to allow prosecutors to file charges in cases when biological evidence reopens a case.

This action comes at a time when a Tulsa County man convicted of rape 13 years ago may be exonerated as early as Monday.

Arvin C. McGee Jr. was convicted of rape, forcible sodomy, robbery and kidnapping in 1989 and sentenced to 365 years in prison. The term was later reduced to 298 years.

Lawyers with the Oklahoma Indigent Defense System had a lab test a semen slide from the case. The test showed the semen did not match McGee's DNA.

Additional testing of two more samples is being completed by the Tulsa Police Department crime laboratory.

If McGee is freed, prosecutors and defense attorneys plan to place the DNA profile from the rapist into existing law enforcement databases to search for a possible match.

But the seven-year statute of limitations on rape may prevent a prosecution.

That's why Rep. Jeri Askins, D-Duncan, and Sen. Jonathan Nichols, R-Norman, want to change the law.

``It is not fair to the victim to not be able to go back to the person whose DNA shows that person committed the crime,'' Askins said. ``That is not what the justice system is all about.

``Law enforcement officers should be allowed the opportunity to find whose DNA it really is to charge that person.''

Askins' bill would allow prosecutors to file charges in rape and sexual assault cases when biological evidence reopens a case.

House Bill 2790 moved out of committee and is expected to be heard on the floor Thursday.

Nichols, a former prosecutor, said the reliability and accuracy of DNA testing has made a statute of limitations for certain sex crimes ``not necessary.''

His bill, Senate Bill 1428, would eliminate the time limitation on the crimes of rape, forcible sodomy and lewd molestation.

The bill has moved out of committee and is expected to be heard by the full Senate in the next few weeks.

``This is a nonpartisan issue, and I believe it will receive support from both sides of the aisle,'' Nichols said. ``This law would not only change the way DNA evidence can impact a case, it would also go a long way in impacting the reduction of crimes that have historically threatened women and children in our communities.''

Trent Baggett, assistant executive coordinator of the District Attorneys Council, said his organization supports the change to reflect the growing use of DNA technology in older cases.

``It would be a positive change, and I commend them because it is a situation that will come up over and over again,'' Baggett said. ``It is not something that is going away.''

The release of Jeffrey Todd Pierce last year, who served nearly 15 years for a rape he did not commit, was cited as one of the reasons a change in the law is needed.

Pierce's wrongful conviction was partially based on false testimony by former Oklahoma City police chemist Joyce Gilchrist.

Gilchrist's work has sparked several challenges and has led to a multicounty task force investigation. She was fired from her position last year.

``This legislation will prevent that situation from happening again,'' Nichols said. ``Prosecutors will appreciate having this legislation and will find it a useful tool in prosecuting these types of cases.''
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