Friday, November 4, 2016

Ambiguity Mars The Jane Mixer Case

Forty-eight years after the murder of University of Michigan coed Jane Mixer, a University of California San Diego professor believes the man convicted of the crime--Gary Earl Leiterman--may be innocent. After consulting with six DNA experts, Distinguished Professor of Psychology John Wixted has written an article in this month's Association for Psychological Science Observer in support of his belief that contaminated DNA evidence convicted the wrong man.

In 2005, Gary Earl Leiterman was identified through DNA analysis as Mixer's assailant in her March 20, 1968 murder. Mixer's presumed murderer, long held by the public to be John Norman Collins, was exonerated by default when Leiterman was convicted of Mixer's murder thirty-six years after her death. 

Perspiration stains found on a nylon stocking tied around Mixer's neck were examined for DNA. The FBI using their CODIS (Combined DNA Index System) database came up with a direct hit on Leiterman. Complicating the DNA evidence in this case was a spot of blood found on Mixer's hand. It matched the blood of John Ruelas, who was only four years old at the time. 

The obvious contamination at the crime lab did not sway the jury. They found Leiterman guilty of murder in the first degree after deliberating less than three hours. Since his incarceration, Leiterman has been proclaiming his innocence because of irregularities at the crime lab where the Mixer forensic analysis was done.
 
Professor Wixted believes Collins may still be the prime suspect in Jane Mixer's murder. He believes there is compelling evidence pointing to Collins's involvement--though there is no hard evidence to support that finding. Leiterman hopes he and his lawyer can get a new trial clearing him of the crime after serving over ten years of his life sentence.

Giving Leiterman hope are updated FBI standards and protocols for DNA labs (Quality Assurance Standards for Forensic DNA Testing Laboratories) effective September 7, 2011. Of its seventeen provisions, #7 Evidence Control, #9 Analytical Procedures, and #14 Corrective Action look the most promising for Leiterman's defense. The new provisions were tightened to ensure the quality and integrity of DNA data generated by these labs. Had these protocols been in place during the Leiterman trial, it is doubtful the DNA evidence would have been admissible in court. What that means for Leiterman's future is yet to be determined.

Professor Wixted's article: http://www.psychologicalscience.org/publications/observer/2016/nov-16/whether-eyewitness-memory-or-dna-contaminated-forensic-evidence-is-unreliable.html