STORY: "Potsdam Boys murder case: Potsdam Boy’s Murder Case May Hinge on Minuscule DNA Sample From Fingernail," by reporter Jesse McKinley, published by the New York Times on July 25, 2016.
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"The case involves the killing of the boy, Garrett Phillips, here in October 2011, a crime for which a former local college soccer coach, Oral Nicholas Hillary, has been charged, despite a seeming paucity of physical evidence. In recent months, however, the prosecution has suggested that it may use low-template DNA analysis to tie Mr. Hillary to Garrett’s murder, utilizing sophisticated algorithms to determine statistical probabilities by analyzing genetic data that older methods could not interpret. In particular, the prosecution is attempting to use software developed by a New Zealand company — STRmix — on a minute sample that was scraped from one of Garrett’s fingernails and came from an unknown individual, possibly during a struggle. But the defense team — led by a prominent civil rights lawyer, Norman Siegel, and a criminal defense lawyer, Earl S. Ward — has challenged the methodology as unreliable, citing past problems with STRmix’s computer programs, as well as the minuscule amount of material used for analysis. And this month, the judge in the case, Felix J. Catena, agreed to a so-called Frye hearing on the admissibility of the STRmix program, citing the extremely small amount of biological material. The hearing is scheduled to begin on Monday in nearby Canton; its outcome may be felt in Potsdam — a riverfront village that has been shaken and divided by Garrett’s murder — as well as further afield, as prosecutors seek more methods to convict those charged and defense lawyers seek more ways to exonerate them. New computer programs have allowed analysis of many samples — often with mixed and multiple individuals’ DNA — that were previously considered inconclusive. Still, there is scientific debate about the use of such low-template DNA (which refers to how much DNA is recovered, sometimes as little a few cells) and low-copy-number DNA analysis (the process of using extra amplification of very small samples).........The most immediate effect of the hearing may be on Mr. Hillary, who has steadfastly maintained his innocence, suggesting that the prosecution may be driven in part by his race: Mr. Hillary, 42, is black, while the vast majority of St. Lawrence County is white, as was Garrett. The St. Lawrence County district attorney, Mary Rain, has denied that Mr. Hillary’s race is a motivating factor. But his assertion of an unjustified prosecution has been bolstered by the lack of hard evidence: The police have said in earlier testimony that no fingerprints, no witnesses and no hair or tissue samples link him to the crime. Mr. Hillary, who still lives in Potsdam with his girlfriend and their five children, has also been backed by a public campaign to press his innocence.At the same time, Ms. Rain’s competence has been questioned after a series of professional missteps that led to a no-confidence vote by county legislators in April. The Frye hearing is the latest legal chapter in a case that stretches back almost five years to Garrett’s murder, which occurred on a rainy afternoon in a run-down apartment building along one of this village’s main thoroughfares. Mr. Hillary, the coach of the men’s soccer team at Clarkson University here when Garrett was killed, was a former boyfriend of the boy’s mother, and a suspect from the beginning. He was not charged until 2014, after Ms. Rain, a Republican who had promised to bring new scrutiny to the crime, was elected. (Her predecessor, Nicole Duve, a Democrat, had declined to bring charges, citing a lack of evidence.) The first indictment against Mr. Hillary was thrown out for prosecutorial misconduct, and though a second indictment was later secured, the judge in the case asked to be recused earlier this year after filing an ethics complaint against Ms. Rain. Ms. Rain has enlisted William Fitzpatrick, a well-regarded district attorney from the Syracuse area, to assist in the prosecution.........Last year, a coding error in the STRmix program was reported to have affected probabilities in dozens of cases in Queensland, Australia. Dr. John Buckleton, a creator of STRmix, is expected to testify during the hearing in Canton. Mr. Hillary is also expected to attend." The entire story can be found at:
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The Toronto Star, my previous employer for more than twenty incredible years, has put considerable effort into exposing the harm caused by Dr. Charles Smith and his protectors - and into pushing for reform of Ontario's forensic pediatric pathology system. The Star has a "topic" section which focuses on recent stories related to Dr. Charles Smith. It can be found at: