Friday, April 13, 2001

DNA points at Warren inmate

More tests needed to confirm suspicion

By Sheila McLaughlin
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The same evidence that could exonerate one man in a 20-year-old Toledo homicide has linked a Warren County prison inmate to the crime using a newly created state DNA database.

        A Lebanon Correctional Institution (LCI) prisoner convicted last year in a similar 1983 rape and murder was identified as a possible suspect in the 1981 slaying of a Toledo mother of three, according to court documents filed this week in Warren County.

        The discovery came just as the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation finished a $1.2 million project in February to clear up a backlog of 22,000 DNA samples taken from violent Ohio offenders since 1997.

        The identification of the LCI prisoner was one of nine “hits” generated by the computerized crime-fighting database so far, said Brett Crowe, a spokesman for the Ohio agency.

        It comes on the heels of the first DNA match, which tied convicted burglar Sean B. Price of St. Bernard to the 1999 rapes of two women in Hamilton and Warren counties.

        Even though the Toledo case appears to contradict the system's intent, state officials said they are satisfied that justice is served.

        “The point of the (database) was to give law enforcement another tool to be able to solve previously unsolvable cases,” Mr. Crowe said. “If we come upon cases where it appears to exonerate someone, that's all the better.”

        Tuesday, authorities from Toledo and Warren County used a search warrant to obtain a blood specimen from the LCI inmate to confirm the initial DNA match.

        The same day, a judge in Lucas County freed Danny Brown from prison and ordered a new trial in light of the developments in Bobbie Russell's death.

        The 45-year-old Toledo man was serving a life sentence in the slaying of Ms. Russell, whom he dated. The conviction was based solely on the word of the woman's 6-year-old son, who said Mr. Brown was there. Lucas County prosecutors said further investigation will determine whether they again pursue an aggravated murder charge against Mr. Brown.

        Ms. Russell was strangled with an electrical cord, raped with a broomstick and sod- omized in the living room of her apartment Dec. 5, 1981. The killer also tried to strangle Ms. Russell's 3-year-old twin daughters with a coat hanger and tried to set the house on fire, authorities said.

        Lucas County prosecutors took a second look at the case at the urging of Mr. Brown's lawyer, Jon Richardson, and Centurion Ministries, a New Jersey advocacy group that works to free innocent inmates.

        Results of the latest DNA sample from the LCI inmate are expected within weeks, state officials said.

        Confirmation of a match doesn't mean that charges will be filed immediately against the 50-year-old prisoner because more investigation is needed, said John Weglian, an assistant Lucas County prosecutor who tried the case against Danny Brown.

        A match would tie the LCI inmate to the victim, but not necessarily to the slaying.

        “We didn't know then, and we don't know now when she was sexually assaulted. It's something you can't tell from DNA,” Mr. Weglian said.

        Mr. Crowe said: “You still have to have the investigative work ... to place the person at the scene.”


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