When Kirk Bloodsworth was convicted and sentenced to death for raping and killing a nine year-old girl, the audience in Baltimore County’s circuit court in Maryland broke out into wild applause. It was July of 1984, and at 22 years old, the former Marine was the most notorious man in Maryland. His crimes were so brutal, that even inmates threatened to kill him; one bashed him on the back of the head with a sock full of batteries.
After serving nine years behind bars--two on death row--Bloodsworth became the first person in America to be exonerated by DNA evidence and released from prison. He is now director of advocacy for “Witness to Innocence”, which is attempting to convince the 32 remaining states where the death penalty remains legal, to repeal it.
Early in June, the Supreme Court cleared the way for police to take DNA samples for people they arrest, without a warrant. The decision has stirred concerns among criminal justice and privacy advocates. The challenge of legally obtaining DNA samples from suspects is an essential plot point in police and court dramas – driving the action across two or even three commercial breaks. New York Times television critic Neil Genzlingerwondered what effect the high court ruling could have on TV crime shows.
In February, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Maryland v. King -- concerning the warrantless collection of DNA from people arrested for, but not convicted of a crime; Maryland is one of 28 states that collect DNA upon arrest. The case against the state questions whether DNA collected from people still presumed innocent violates the Fourth Amendment. The decision could have far-reaching implications in the real world, where DNA solves far fewer cases than on TV. Jason Silverstein is a PhD student in anthropology at Harvard and a contributor to The Nation. He looked into the racial implications of the case that Justice Samuel Alito called, “Perhaps the most important criminal procedure case that this court has heard in decades.”
As of last month, over forty-thousand patents on DNA molecules have been submitted by private research companies –essentially claiming the entire human genome sequence for profit. The Supreme Court will review the matter at hearing on April 15th, and the outcome could have a significant impact on personalized medicine and scientific research. Joining us is Doctor Christopher Mason of Weill Cornell Medical College’s department of Physiology and Biophysics. He’s co-author of a new study that got our attention, on the issue of genomic liberty.
Greta Garbo is best known throughout her storied career for her plea from the 1932 film Grand Hotel. She later left the spotlight and chose to live the rest of her life privately and anonymously – an exit considered freakish by the public and a press which shadowed her the rest of her life. Today, we know far more about everyday citizens who’s allure falls far short of Garbo’s.
The expansion of forensic databases by US federal agencies. DNA collection of convicted felons is a well- publicized procedure. Recently released documents reveal that the department of homeland security and other federal agencies will be required to collect DNA from any person over the age of fourteen who has been detained -- regardless of criminal activity -- and that plans to include children under 14 are being explored.
Early on Thursday, lawmakers in New York approved a bill that will make the state the first to require DNA samples from almost all convicted criminals — and make its DNA database one of the largest in the nation.