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TrueAllele cigar box DNA helps free Ralph Birch after thirty years in Connecticut prison
On the night of December 1, 1985, Connecticut man Everett Carr (65) was stabbed twenty-seven times in his New Milford home. The deceased was found lying in a pool of blood, which covered the hallway walls. Bloody footprints led to his second floor bedroom. A bloodstained White Owl cigar box was found in a dresser drawer.
Ralph Birch (18), Shawn Henning (17) and a girlfriend (18) had stolen a Buick Regal days before, driving up to New Hampshire and returning the night of the murder. They confessed to stealing the car, but denied killing anyone. A police search of the uncleaned Buick showed no blood. No physical evidence connected Birch or Henning to the murder.
At trial, state forensic laboratory director Dr. Henry Lee testified, "that a red substance on a towel found in the victim's home had tested positive for blood." This helped the prosecution explain why no blood was on the defendants. Yet, "in fact, no such test had been conducted," and a later test proved negative for blood.
Birch and Henning were convicted of felony murder. Birch was sentenced to fifty-five years in prison, and Henning to fifty years. They maintained their innocence, and filed appeals.
Later state testing showed no defendant DNA in Carr's house. But the laboratory couldn't fully resolve the complex mixtures. Their simple interpretation methods failed to find key information. So DNA evidence stayed silent, while Birch and Henning stayed in prison.
On December 8, 2015, Cybergenetics sent a TrueAllele® report to Supervising Attorney Andrew O'Shea at Kirschbaum Law. Unmixing the crime lab's old data, the computer found new exculpatory forensic evidence.
TrueAllele showed that an unknown woman had left her DNA in the house. The woman's DNA was clearly on the White Owl cigar box. And, statistically, her DNA was on the victim's clothing, on the knife found under his body, and on the wood flooring where he died.
The next week, Boise State University Professor Greg Hampikian testified about Cybergenetics DNA results. He explained how the TrueAllele computer method works, and why it is reliable. Dr. Hampikian said the defendants' DNA wasn't at the crime scene. But the "White Owl cigar box" woman was. And her DNA was found on other evidence items collected from the victim's home.
Despite this new DNA evidence, the Superior Court denied relief.
But on June 14, 2019, the State Supreme Court reversed the lower court, and ordered a new trial. They cited Brady v. Maryland (1963), which held that "the suppression by the prosecution of evidence favorable to an accused upon request violates due process."
The Court also cited Napue v. Illinois (1959), under which an individual's due process rights are violated when the state relies on false testimony that it knew, or should have known, to be false in order to obtain a criminal conviction.
Ralph Birch was released on July 2, after spending thirty-one years in prison. Outside the courthouse, he said, "I feel good, it's about time. It's been a long time coming."
Co-defendant Shawn Henning was released on parole last November. Birch added, "It seems like it took a lot longer than it should. But I've got a lot of good people on my side, in my corner, and they fought for me."
Attorney O'Shea, who represented Birch, "appreciated all the insights that Cybergenetics was able to provide through their TrueAllele analysis of the DNA evidence in tracking down the true killer in this case."
Cybergenetics Chief Scientist Dr. Mark Perlin and Dr. Hampikian reanalyze crime lab data to find more DNA information for criminal justice. Their TrueAllele work has helped give legal relief or exonerate nine men: Ralph Birch, Johnny Lee Gates, Roosevelt Glenn, Shawn Henning, Gregory Hobbs, Paul Jenkins, Freddie Lawrence, Darryl Pinkins, and Christopher Tapp.
- Shawn Henning v. Commissioner of Correction - Connecticut State Supreme Court - Opinion
- Man charged as teen in 1985 death released from prison - NBC Connecticut - Television
- Judge orders release of Ralph Birch after 1985 conviction overturned in the killing of a New Milford man - Danbury News-Times - Newspaper