WACO (August 31, 2012)—Retired district Judge George Allen granted a request Friday afternoon to re-test DNA in connection with a 1992 rape and murder case that could prove the innocence of four men convicted on the crime.
“Judge Allen was the Judge who originally tried this case. He is in the best position to make this decision. We respect the Judge’s ruling and will gladly comply with the Judge’s order," district attorney Abel Reyna said Friday afternoon.
Attorneys for three men convicted in the 1992 sexual assault of a teenage runaway girl who later was murdered, appeared in Waco's 54th District Court Friday to request that the men be given an opportunity to have their DNA retested in hopes they can be cleared of the crime for which they've been serving time.
Lawyers for James Wayne Pitts Jr., Michael Dewayne Shelton and James Edward Long appeared Friday morning before retired State district Judge George R. Allen to request new DNA testing aimed at exonerating their clients.
Another co-defendant, Richard Bryan Kussmaul, was convicted at trial of participating in the sexual assaults and of capital murder in the deaths of Leslie Murphy, then 17, and her 14-year-old friend Stephen Neighbors.
The attorneys, in an effort led by the University of Texas innocence clinics, say DNA testing back in 1992 was woefully inaccurate and that new testing methods could lead to setting their clients free.
The district attorney said the only new information presented in hearing today is the recantations of guilt by three men who confessed to the sexual assault before the girl and her friend were murdered.
Dr. Laura Gahn, director of operations at Cellmark Forensics in Dallas, testified Friday that new DNA testing is much more precise.
Also at issue is testimony in the 1994 trial of an expert that a "negroid" hair was found on victims that cannot be traced to the four defendants.
Trial testimony at the time indicated Murphy and Neighbors had run away from the Dallas area to San Antonio and were on their way back home when they were killed near Moody.
All four men claim new DNA testing will prove their innocence.
Three have since recanted their testimony and they, along with Kussmaul, now claim they were wrongfully convicted.
Pitts, Long and Kussmaul all have made requests before to have their DNA re-tested and Allen, who presided over those hearings, denied their requests.
Shelton, now 42, was released from prison on parole in 2011.
Pitts and Long, both 41, are due for release on parole in 2013.
Pitts, Long and Shelton all were sentenced to 20-year sentences, which they received after Allen refused a plea deal that would have given them probation in exchange for their testimony against Kussmaul, who is serving life.
Kussmaul is due for parole review in 2028.
All three testified that in 1992 they raped Murphy and then watched as Kussmaul shot her and Neighbors in the back with a high-powered rifle.
Pitts, Shelton and Long say their confessions were coerced because police threatened them with the death penalty if they did not confess.