Prosecutors are seeking to use a new type of DNA evidence against the alleged killer of a man family members have described as a “gentle soul.”
Attorneys for both sides appeared in Schenectady County Court on Friday morning before state Supreme Court Justice Frank Miliano to see if a trial date for 46-year-old John Wakefield should be moved.
Wakefield, who was not present for Friday’s proceedings, is charged with first-degree murder in the death of Brent Wentworth inside Wentworth’s apartment on Wendell Avenue in April 2010. Wakefield is accused of strangling Wentworth with a ligature in the course of a robbery, prosecutors have said.
Key to the decision to delay the trial, attorneys said, was how much time the defense would need to respond to the prosecution seeking to use the new DNA analysis, one that has never been used at trial in New York state. Wakefield’s trial had been set to begin later this month.
Full details of the new DNA analysis were unavailable from attorneys Friday, but, from what information was released, it appears to be a technique developed and championed by Dr. Mark W. Perlin of Pittsburgh. According to a 2012 article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Perlin’s technique, called TrueAllele, allows for the analysis of small samples, or even mixtures of DNA from more than one person. It has been successfully used at trials in Pennsylvania, and even in Ireland, The Post-Gazette reported.
Whether it, or any other new DNA technique, can be used at Wakefield’s trial could be the subject of a future pretrial hearing.
Prosecutor Peter Willis declined to discuss the evidence, but said prosecutors’ interest has been longstanding.
“I don’t have any definitive reports on what we’re going to be using at trial, and I won’t for the next week or two weeks,” he said.
Willis did say the prosecution effort does not involve extracting DNA from small samples, but he confirmed there is DNA evidence in the case based on practices long used in New York state.
“This is something additional,” he said.
Wakefield’s attorney, Fred Rench, was not impressed with the prosecution’s effort, calling the attempt “DNA voodoo.”
“There’s no evidence that Mr. Wakefield committed this crime,” Rench said. “This evidence is coming out of Pennsylvania, and that’s where it’s being manufactured.”
He said he intends to challenge any use of the evidence.
“These are techniques that even the New York State Police don’t use,” Rench said, “and it hasn’t been used in New York state.”
Any hearing would be held to determine the scientific acceptance of the method.
Wakefield and Wentworth knew each other prior to the slaying, prosecutors have said, and Wentworth apparently let Wakefield into the apartment at 1019 Wendell Ave.
Wentworth, 41, was found dead April 12, 2010. He is believed to have been killed the day before.
Prosecutors have credited “dogged police work” in bringing the case to an indictment in November. They have also credited the state police Major Crimes Unit and “extensive forensic analysis” by the state police laboratory.
Wakefield is already in prison on an unrelated assault sentence.
Wentworth suffered from schizophrenia, his mother has said. Family members have described him as someone who didn’t have much but would save what he had to ensure he was able to get family members something when the holidays came around.
He was the father of a daughter, who lives with relatives in Connecticut.