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New evidence type OK’d for Schenectady murder trial

New evidence type OK’d for Schenectady murder trial

Prosecutors have won an important legal victory in a nearly 5-year-old murder case set to be tried n

Prosecutors have won an important legal victory in a nearly 5-year-old murder case set to be tried next month.

A judge in the case ruled in favor of allowing a new type of DNA analysis as evidence.

In the ruling issued last week in the murder case against John Wakefield, Judge Michael V. Coccoma found the method called TrueAllele met the threshold for use in New York state courtrooms.

He also found that a state police investigation into improper information sharing on a test by DNA analysts had no bearing on the underlying studies that showed the TrueAllele analysis worked.

The ruling means that prosecutors will be allowed to present DNA evidence that points to individuals with a higher degree of certainty than with traditional methods.

Coccoma’s ruling is expected to open the door for the TrueAllele method to be used in courtrooms statewide.

Coccoma found that the research into the technology shows it “superior to current methods.” He also wrote that it “has been demonstrated to be one of, if not, the most advanced method of interpreting DNA profiles from mixed and low-template DNA.”

State appeals courts likely will have the final say on the statewide rules.

Wakefield, 48, is accused of killing 41-year-old Brett Wentworth in April 2010 in Schenectady as Wakefield went on a four-day drug binge.

Wakefield’s defense attorney, Fred Rench, who has vehemently opposed the new technology’s use in court, said Monday he will now turn his focus to the state police DNA work that provides the underpinnings of the TrueAllele analysis.

The state police said last month that 12 analysts learning the technique were identified as potentially being involved in improper information sharing concerning a test they were taking. They have since been taken off case work.

Rench said he must know if any of the implicated analysts worked on the Wakefield case before the trial can go forward. He’s also calling for an independent investigation into the improper information sharing issue.

Rench said he will ask for a delay in the trial as early as Tuesday based on those concerns.

“Mr. Wakefield is willing to wait in jail until the investigation is complete,” Rench said. Wakefield continues to be held without bail.

Prosecutors on Monday said they will oppose a delay. Schenectady County District Attorney Robert Carney argued that the state police investigation is not related to the Wakefield case.

The case has seen repeated delays, he noted.

State police have also said there is no reason to believe the allegations have affected any criminal cases.

Coccoma’s ruling came after a lengthy hearing that focused on the technology, but also revealed the internal state police investigation into alleged improper information sharing by analysts learning the new technology.

According to testimony at the hearing in December, at least two analysts were suspected of improperly sharing answers on tests to show their competency in the new TrueAllele technique.

The state police said they have done no TrueAllele analysis yet. In the Wakefield case, the method’s creator, Dr. Mark Perlin of Pittsburgh, did the TrueAllele work and is expected to testify.

Wakefield faces first-degree murder and other charges. If convicted, he faces up to life in prison without parole.

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