Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Oral Nicholas Hillary: New York State; Defence says ssues in the DNA hearing could have nationwide “ripple effect.”..."Criminal and civil rights trial attorney Earl S. Ward, another of Hillary’s attorneys, cautioned that this is not a case where “DNA is the finger of God pointing at the accused.” “This is not that case,” Mr. Ward said. “This is the finger of a statistician pointing at Nick Hillary and that is not what DNA should be all about.”..."Trial is scheduled to start Sept. 6." Watertown Daily Times;

STORY: "Issues in Hillary DNA hearing could have nationwide “ripple effect,” defense says,"  by reporter W.T. Eckert, published by the Watertown Times on July 26, 2016.

PHOTO CAPTION: "Oral “Nick” Hillary, the Potsdam man accused of the 2011 murder of 12-year-old Garrett Phillips, talked with friends Monday prior to the start of a Frye hearing in St. Lawrence County Court, during which his defense team argued the reliability of biological evidence."

GIST: Murder suspect Oral “Nick” Hillary will have to wait for a judge to rule on whether to allow the only reported sliver of physical evidence prosecutors are trying to bring against Hillary at his September trial. Hillary and his team of defense attorneys were in St. Lawrence County Court Monday during a Frye hearing to argue that prosecutors should not be allowed to use a DNA sample produced by STRmix, a forensic software tool used in testing DNA that could implicate Hillary in the 2011 strangulation death of 12-year-old Garrett J. Phillips. Hillary, 41, of 131 Leroy St., Potsdam, is charged with second-degree murder for allegedly strangling the boy on Oct. 24, 2011, at the Market Street apartment where he lived with his mother. Trial is scheduled to start Sept. 6. The issues in the hearing raised Constitutional questions, according to one of Hillary’s attorneys, NYCLU Executive Director Norman Siegel, of Siegel Teitelbaum & Evans, LLP, New York City. “... It could have a ripple effect, as I said before, not just in St. Lawrence County, but across the state and across the country,” Mr. Siegel said. “So my experience is people will rise to the occasion and I am certain that this will happen here as well. Now, after saying all that, we clearly, clearly prefer this to not be admissible because of the arguments that we made today.” Presiding Judge Felix J. Catena, in his granting of the hearing, wrote that there were issues raised in the reliability of the STRmix results in the Hillary case “given that the portion of DNA found in the fingernail scrapings (taken from Garrett) in the 550C2 sample from the minor contributor was very small and would be termed ‘low-template.’” “As such, this court grants defendant a pre-trial hearing on the issue of whether this software program is generally accepted as reliable in analyzing the extreme mixture ratios presented in this case,” Judge Catena wrote. Dr. John S. Buckleton, a forensic scientist from Maryland, formerly of New Zealand, and one of the three developers of STRmix, defended the reliability of the tool when he was called to testify for the prosecutors, Onondaga District Attorney William J. Fitzpatrick and St. Lawrence County District Attorney Mary E. Rain. “I certainly consider it reliable in my belief and a broader community also does,” Dr. Buckleton said.“I base that on validation studies we have done, validation studies other people have done, on an understanding of how this software works.” Many of those validation studies have been done at low templates, similar to the one in question, Dr. Buckleton said. While Dr. Buckleton said that STRmix is “relatively new software being applied in the field,” he countered that “all science evolves,” calling the software “evolutionary, not revolutionary. “I would hope everything is a work in progress, but this certainly is,” Mr. Buckleton said. “We will continue to make evolutionary improvements.” Dr. Buckleton said the DNA profile he tested seemed to be a mixture of two people, a major and a minor DNA contributor. He said there was no evidence of more than two people, though there could have been more, if that was what he was looking for.........Hired defense expert Dan E. Krane, a professor of biological sciences at Wright State University, Ohio, and president, CEO and co-founder of Forensic Bioinformatics, a consulting and testimony service that reviews cases involving forensic DNA testing, said that STRmix works great when it is fed a lot of DNA; however, as in this case, when it is fed a minute amount — between 4 and 8 trillionths of a gram — it becomes problematic. “I find myself in close agreement with Dr. Buckleton in saying that the most extreme mixture rations I have seen were 25 to 1, with one exception,” Dr. Krane said. “That is what I saw in his June statement for this hearing.” That ratio, around 220 to 1, is a DNA that is low-template and doesn’t show the entire profile, said Clinton Hughes, a staff attorney and member of the DNA unit with the Legal Aid Society in New York City who is working on the Hillary defense team pro bono. “We are dealing with something 10 times that amount with a very, very small, minor component that could be more than one person,” Mr. Hughes said. “It becomes an issue and there are a lot of problems in analyzing it, and that is a concern for us that they would want to attach such a large statistic to such a tiny amount of DNA that is based upon a lot of moving parts.”.........Criminal and civil rights trial attorney Earl S. Ward, another of Hillary’s attorneys, cautioned that this is not a case where “DNA is the finger of God pointing at the accused.” “This is not that case,” Mr. Ward said. “This is the finger of a statistician pointing at Nick Hillary and that is not what DNA should be all about.”

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