Durham denies fault in DNA test allegations

Staff WriterDecember 30, 2011 

Durham city officials deny any wrongdoing in the case of Frankie Washington, who has sued the city and District Attorney Tracey Cline for issues related to his 2007 criminal conviction, which since has been tossed out.

Washington's conviction in a home-invasion robbery was vacated after an appeals court ruled that Cline failed to get DNA evidence helpful to his defense tested in a timely fashion.

In documents filed last week, lawyers for the city said Washington "failed to establish a factual and legal basis for any relief against any of the City Defendants." They also contend Washington's lawsuit, filed in September, should be tossed for procedural errors, such as a failure to properly serve the defendants, and because the city and its agents are protected by governmental immunity to such claims.

Washington's lawsuit accuses Cline and Durham police of "reckless and callous disregard of public justice in this State." Washington, of Durham, was convicted in February 2007 of robbery and attempted sexual assault in a case that stretched back nearly five years. The conviction was based on the testimony of the victims, who said he was the masked attacker who entered their house.

Washington consistently claimed he was innocent and sought to have tests conducted on evidence, believing the results would show there was no match to his DNA. Cline did not submit the evidence for years, then testified in the trial and told a judge in a hearing that the delays were the result of a backlog at the state crime lab.

The appeals court found otherwise, ruling that Cline was in control of the testing. When the evidence was finally tested, none of it matched Washington, but he was convicted anyway. The appeals court vacated Washington's conviction after finding he had not been given a speedy trial.

Washington's attorneys, Robert Ekstrand and Stefanie Sparks of Durham, also say Cline and Durham police knew if they tested the evidence against others it would reveal a match with another man, Lawrence Hawes, who had committed similar crimes in the same neighborhood. Hawes has said in an interview the DNA and other forensics would not match him.

Kane: 919-829-4861

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