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Georgia Supreme Court affirms Johnny Lee Gates right to a new trial based on TrueAllele evidence

Atlanta, GA

In January 2019, Muscogee County Senior Judge John Allen ordered a new trial for Johnny Lee Gates based on "newly available exculpatory DNA evidence" from Cybergenetics TrueAllele® analysis. The state opposed. The Supreme Court of Georgia has now affirmed Gates' right to new trial.

Gates has spent 42 years in prison for the murder of Katharina Wright. Due to intellectual disability, he was spared the death penalty. Gates has long maintained his innocence.

In 2015, the Georgia Innocence Project (GIP) found a bathrobe belt and necktie used to bind the victim. Dr. Greg Hampikian of the Idaho Innocence Project arranged for DNA testing by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI).

After reviewing the GBI's low-level DNA mixture data, Hampikian asked Cybergenetics to analyze the same data using their powerful TrueAllele computer system. Developed 20 years ago, and used in the World Trade Center Disaster, the accurate and objective technology reliably handles low-level DNA and mixtures of up to 10 unknown people.

In May 2018, Cybergenetics Chief Executive and Scientist Dr. Mark Perlin testified at the Gates hearing in Columbus, GA. He explained the TrueAllele results – the new items were degraded mixtures of 3 or 4 people, and Gates was statistically excluded. Based on this newly discovered DNA evidence, Judge Allen ordered a new trial.

The State argued that "the trial court abused its discretion when it determined that Gates should receive a new trial because of the discovery of new DNA evidence that is material and exculpatory." In a 62-page decision, the Supreme Court of Georgia disagreed.

The Supreme Court wrote: "The GBI's initial analysis of the DNA samples was inconclusive, but the TrueAllele analysis excluded Gates as a contributor to the DNA mixture found on the belt and tie."

The Court observed: "The State called two witnesses at the hearing. Each testified that, following Gates' initial request for DNA testing, the GBI evaluated the DNA located on those items through human interpretation. That testing yielded inconclusive results. It was only later, through analysis with the TrueAllele software, that it was determined that Gates was not a contributor to the DNA mixtures located on the items."

The Court added: "The trial court noted that this testimony showed that TrueAllele had the ability to interpret that which human interpretation methods could not. The trial court also noted that this testimony demonstrated why the TrueAllele software had been adopted by the GBI. The State did not contest the accuracy of the TrueAllele results in this case, and its witnesses testified that TrueAllele is 'scientifically valid' in its approach to using data that cannot be comprehended or analyzed without the aid of computational software."

According to the Court, the State implicitly conceded that "the 'newly discovered evidence' in this case is not simply the DNA found on the belt and tie, or even the GBI's initial inconclusive test results for them … because the GBI's human interpretation of the DNA results was inconclusive. It was instead the TrueAllele analysis of those results that yielded Gates newly discovered evidence on which he could stake a claim to a new trial."

The Court's "review of the record leads us to conclude that, like the trial court, a reasonable juror would probably afford significant weight to the TrueAllele analysis and Dr. Perlin's supporting testimony."

The Court reasoned, "Had it been available to Gates in his 1977 trial, the TrueAllele analysis of the DNA found on the belt and tie would have opened a clear path for Gates to demonstrate and argue to the jury that he was not the person who bound Wright, and thereby directly attack a key aspect of the State's theory of the case."

The GBI currently uses TrueAllele probabilistic genotyping technology for resolving complex DNA mixtures. The DNA laboratory has conducted its own independent validation studies establishing TrueAllele reliability. Their scientists have testified at TrueAllele admissibility hearings.

Cybergenetics TrueAllele products and services let DNA analysis go beyond the artificial limitations of manual data review or unsophisticated computing. Cybergenetics helps police, prosecutors, defenders, innocence groups, crime laboratories, counties, and private citizens bring vital DNA evidence back into criminal and civil justice.

GIP Executive Director Clare Gilbert, and her co-counsel at the Southern Center for Human Rights, successfully argued Gates' case for a new trial to Judge Allen at the May 2018 hearing. "We are thrilled at the Georgia Supreme Court's decision," said Gilbert.

Johnny Lee Gates (circa 1976)


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