New evidence found in old biological material collected from a 1980s Minneapolis serial killer victim is sitting at a private lab in Texas while attorneys argued in court Friday over who should test it for DNA.
Attorneys with the Minnesota Innocence Project have been trying to exonerate 71-year-old Billy Glaze, the man convicted in the high-profile murders of three American Indian women in the 1980s. They argue there is no biological evidence linking Glaze to the crimes, including in DNA tests performed in recent years on 39 pieces of evidence from the murder scenes.
Instead of linking the murders to Glaze, they argue, their new tests show two pieces of evidence link the murders to another man — a convicted Minnesota rapist whom they declined to identify publicly.
The case came up for a hearing in Hennepin County District Court on Friday after scientists at the private lab hired by the Innocence Project found a tiny amount of intact sperm on evidence taken from one of the victim’s bodies. A test of that sperm is important, Innocence Project attorneys argue, because the condition of the sperm means it was likely deposited right before the victim was killed.
Hennepin County prosecutors have argued that Glaze was convicted with “overwhelming evidence” and that they have the right person in prison. Glaze’s own confessions before and after his conviction confirm his guilt and explain the lack of physical evidence at the scenes of the murders, they contend.
While Innocence Project attorneys want the Texas company that discovered the sperm to do the DNA testing, prosecutors argued Friday that any further testing should be done at the Minnesota BCA crime lab.
Supporters prefer Texas lab
Glaze is serving three life sentences for the bludgeoning deaths of Kathleen Bullman, 19, Angeline Whitebird-Sweet, 26, and Angela Green, 21. The bodies of the women were found between July 1986 and April 1987 in three locations frequented by transients in Minneapolis.
Innocence Project attorneys say Glaze’s confessions were false. After Glaze professed his innocence to them, they sent evidence from the murder scenes to Cellmark Forensics in Dallas. There, scientists discovered a small amount of intact sperm from a slide of biological material taken from Green’s mouth.
The defense argues that Cellmark should test it for DNA because the company has a high success rate in extracting DNA results from small samples of cells. There may not be enough evidence for more than one test, they said. They offered to pay for a Minnesota scientist of the prosecutors’ choosing to go to Texas and observe the testing.
“This may be a one-shot deal,” defense attorney Ed Magarian argued in court. “I want to make sure that we have the best entity around … do the extraction and the testing.”
Prosecutors want closure
Assistant Hennepin County Attorney Jean Burdorf argued that if there is just one chance to test the evidence, “the tie should go to the state.”
Ultimately, it’s the state’s job to prove a case through evidence, Burdorf argued, saying it’s better practice to have a public lab do it. That way, in addition to comparing the sample to a national database, it could also easily be compared to a state database of DNA, she argued.
Defense attorneys said Cellmark’s results could easily be compared to Minnesota’s database, too.
The defense began calling the case into question more than seven years ago, Burdorf noted, and has had plenty of time to test evidence. While prosecutors have acquiesced to defense requests for testing, “we want to achieve some kind of closure in this case,” Burdorf said.
“We’re not here to hide the truth. … We’re not trying to suppress justice,” Burdorf argued, but added that prosecutors want “a little bit of control asserted” by the court over any further testing of evidence.
Judge Toddrick Barnette said he would issue a ruling in 30 days on who will test the sperm.