Freedom sought through DNA

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

An expert from California testified here last week about DNA evidence that might exonerate a Marshall County man convicted 10 years ago on a child rape charge.

At a post-conviction hearing for Randall Ray Mills, 55, on Friday, Gary C. Harmor testified that he had re-examined the underwear presented in the case, and his findings "excluded" Mills as "a source of the male DNA."

An attorney with the Innocence Project, Craig M. Cooley, assisted Mills' Pulaski-based lawyer, Hershel Koger, by asking technical questions about the DNA.

Harmor disagreed with Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Agent Sharon Jenkins who performed the original study of the evidence.

"I think she incorrectly reported," Harmor said.

"So," Cooley asked, "the male DNA you identified on the underwear could not be contributed by Randy Mills?"

And Harmor replied, "That's right."

Assistant District Attorney Eddie Barnard prosecuted Mills at trial and Friday he sought to cast doubt on the process of analysis.

Harmor admitted that he did not perform all the testing himself, but supervised an assistant who did the work, and also reviewed the results. Further questioning revealed that this had been considered sufficient in other courts.

Barnard suggested that other people had handled the underwear, and might have contaminated it with their own DNA.

There were many technical questions about the testing process, but Harmor was unshaken: "I'm confident with my results."

"The petition states this result proves the defendant's innocence," said Barnard. "Are you testifying to that?"

"No," Harmor answered.

Circuit Court Judge Robert Crigler will resume hearing evidence in Mills' post-conviction hearing on June 9, when all parties are able to return to court.