DE QUEEN — An Arkansas death row inmate is pleading for additional DNA testing to prove that he didn’t kill a young mother in 1993.
Stacey Eugene Johnson has been twice convicted of killing Carol Heath. He was among eight inmates who were scheduled for execution in April, but the Arkansas Supreme Court granted a last-minute stay so he could seek further DNA testing in his case. Three others also received stays and the other four were executed.
Witnesses at Wednesday’s hearing in De Queen discussed the improvements in DNA testing since the original tests were run nearly 25 years ago.
“We’ve established that modern DNA testing methods can prove Mr. Johnson’s innocence, and Arkansas law clearly established that Mr. Johnson is entitled to that testing,” said Karen Thompson, a senior staff attorney with the Innocence Project, a nonprofit legal organization that works to overturn wrongful convictions.
Prosecutor Bryan Chesshir defended the DNA testing methods used in the case.
Evidence that could be tested includes hairs, swabs taken from the victim’s wounds and other body parts, fingernail samples and clothing worn and used by the suspect during the murder.
Heath’s death was caused by a throat cut, strangulation and blunt-force head injuries, said Dr. Frank Peretti, an associate medical examiner for the State Crime Lab. Peretti said the DNA in hairs found on Heath’s body matched Johnson’s. The state Supreme Court ruled in 2006 that the hairs were retested three times.
“The final DNA test of the hairs indicated a statistical frequency distribution that the genetic material belonged to someone in the African-American population other than the appellant (Johnson) was 1 in 20 million,” the ruling stated. “Another retest is not necessary.”
If the appeal for retesting and the process fails to discover new evidence, Johnson’s family said they’ll try to clear his name even if he is executed.