Florida Supreme Court Rejects Request for DNA Testing in Capital Murder Case – Jackson v. State

June 5, 2013 by David S. Seltzer

DNA testing has enabled courts to revisit some criminal cases they thought they’d closed for good years ago. However, it can be an uphill battle for defendants to obtain DNA testing in a closed case, as the Florida Supreme Court’s ruling in Jackson v. State shows. Etheria Jackson was convicted of the 1985 murder of Linton Moody, a stabbing. At the time, DNA testing technology didn’t exist, so several items gathered from the murder scene were not tested to corroborate testimony by Jackson or conflicting testimony by Linda Riley, a witness who Jackson alleges was the real perpetrator. The circuit court that heard Jackson’s later DNA testing motion ruled that there was no reasonable probability that the results could have changed the jury’s decision, and the Florida Supreme Court ultimately agreed.

Moody was the owner of a furniture store in Jacksonville from which Jackson and Riley, Jackson’s girlfriend, had bought a washing machine on an installment plan. Moody came to their home to collect money due on the plan, and Jackson allegedly assaulted Moody, beating him with a cast on Jackson’s arm and stabbing him repeatedly. Riley tested against Jackson at trial, and he was ultimately sentenced to death. In 2010, he filed a motion asking for DNA testing on six items from the scene, arguing that the testing would establish that Riley was the killer, or at least discredit some of her testimony. In particular, he asked for DNA testing on two knives, a belt, Moody’s pants and glasses and Jackson’s own cast. Of the items requested, the state was able to locate only the cast. But in any case, the trial court denied the motion, finding there was no reasonable probability that the DNA evidence would have resulted in an acquittal or a shorter sentence.

Jackson appealed directly to the Florida Supreme Court, which eventually agreed. It first analyzed the claim as to the cast from Jackson’s arm. At trial, testimony established that testing failed to find any blood on the cast. Jackson told police he’d washed his cast because it was dirty, but also argued at trial that the lack of blood showed Riley was not telling the truth about Jackson beating Moody with his cast. In his motion for DNA testing, Jackson argued that DNA testing would also establish a lack of saliva, skin cells or other DNA from Moody. He said that if a jury heard this, and also heard that DNA does not necessarily disappear when an item is washed, it could reasonably have changed its decisions. The high court disagreed with this, reasoning that it was the same argument made at trial about the blood and thus would not have swayed the jury. On the other items, the high court found that these may not even have DNA, their DNA might not implicate Riley, and any evidence couldn’t contradict other circumstantial evidence.

In an appeal like this, the court has the unenviable task of attempting to second-guess what a jury might have done. Without a slam dunk piece of evidence, such as the complete absence of the defendant’s DNA anywhere on the scene, it’s difficult to guess what a jury would do, especially a jury that made its decision 30 years ago. But in my opinion, murder is too serious a crime to deny defendants the privilege of DNA testing. Though the high court thought DNA testing would have been futile, a DNA test showing none of Moody’s DNA on the cast could have cast serious doubt on the rest of the evidence. Because the death penalty is very, very final, I believe it’s important to get it right, even if that means the state of Florida has to take extra time to do it.

If you’re facing a serious criminal charge in Florida, don’t wait to call Seltzer Law, P.A. for help. Based in downtown Miami, we represent clients across South Florida, Orlando and all other Florida cities. For a free, confidential case evaluation, call us at 1-888-THE-DEFENSE 24 hours a day, or send us a message online.

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