LAWMAKER to Introduce Bill to Extend Statute of Limitations in DNA Cases

Monday, September 10th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

(TULSA) - Advances in DNA technology warrant the need to lengthen or eliminate the statute of limitations for rape cases and others in which DNA plays a prominent role, prosecutors and police say.

The statute of limitations on rape cases in Oklahoma was three years until the law was amended in 1990 to extend it to seven years.

But reliable DNA testing has become common in criminal proceedings and authorities say it's time to change the law again.

``Why should a person get away with rape because the time has expired when we have technology now where we can solve these cases?'' asked Tulsa Police Sgt. Gary Stansill. ``Why seven years? Why three years? It is like we are saying, if you get past this amount of time, the victim's suffering does not matter anymore.''

Rep. Jari Askins, D-Duncan, said she will propose legislation to change the statute of limitations for cases involving genetic evidence. Askins said the Jeff Pierce case led her to draft legislation.

Pierce was released from prison earlier this year after serving 15 years in prison for a rape he didn't commit. DNA evidence taken from semen exonerated Pierce.

Now authorities say the semen matches the DNA profile of a prison inmate serving time for another rape that happened at the same apartment complex as in the Pierce case. But the inmate, Omer D. May Jr., might not be charged because the statute of limitations has expired.

``With recent developments in the state concerning DNA testing, it is important we create laws that without a doubt protect the innocent,'' Askins said. ``However, we must alter any law that shields criminals from being prosecuted for their actions.''

Oklahoma City police chemist Joyce Gilchrist misidentified hair evidence in Pierce's trial. In April, the FBI recommended a review of all cases in which her work was significant to securing a conviction.

Gilchrist has been on paid administrative leave from the police department since February. Her work is being investigated by state and federal agencies.

Meanwhile, a forensic team at the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation has reached the halfway point in its review of Gilchrist's forensic work. So far, the team has reviewed 583 case files and marked 99 for further review.

DNA test results are reliable and could replace ``pseudo science'' tests that are questionable, said Oliver Arbogast, president of Tulsa County Criminal Defense Lawyers Association.

``I realize it will open more people up to prosecution but the good that DNA does outweighs the bad,'' Arbogast said.