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15-May-2020

Johnny Lee Gates freed after 43 years in prison after TrueAllele reanalyzes DNA evidence


Columbus, GA

After forty-three years in Georgia prison for a crime he says he did not commit, Johnny Lee Gates today walked out a free man. Cybergenetics TrueAllele® computer reanalysis of previously "inconclusive" DNA provided the crucial exculpatory evidence.

Over forty years ago, Gates, a black man, was charged with the murder, rape, and armed robbery of Katharina Wright, a white woman. Gates was tried, convicted, and sentenced to death by an all-white jury. The death sentence was later removed due to intellectual disability.

Twenty years ago, American innovator Cybergenetics developed a new way of successfully interpreting complex DNA evidence. Previous methods had failed because they discard most DNA data. Human analysis couldn't handle data variation, but TrueAllele embraced stochastic effects to deliver accurate results.

Ten years ago, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in the Commerce Department spearheaded an effort to limit review of DNA mixtures containing two or more people. NIST's "stochastic threshold" policy forced crime labs to toss out even more mixture evidence. Under NIST's leadership, DNA interpretation failure became the new standard.

Five years ago, the Georgia Innocence Project found two new crime scene items. DNA testing of the bathrobe belt and necktie used to bind the victim showed degraded mixtures of three or four people. But hewing to NIST's standards, the state crime laboratory couldn't interpret the mixture data; their DNA results were inconclusive. TrueAllele successfully analyzed the DNA data, and statistically excluded Gates from the items.

Two years ago, DNA expert Dr. Mark Perlin testified about Cybergenetics' TrueAllele reanalysis of the belt and necktie mixture evidence. Better interpretation of the same DNA data gave scientifically reliable results. Last year, trial Judge John Allen ruled that TrueAllele provided "newly available exculpatory DNA evidence that entitled Gates to a new trial."

In January, the Georgia Supreme Court upheld Judge Allen's ruling. "Although the State presented strong evidence of Gates' guilt, Gates could have much more effectively countered such evidence had he also been able to present the newly discovered DNA evidence," wrote the Court. "In light of the weight given to such evidence by jurors, we cannot say that the trial court abused its discretion when it determined that the newly discovered evidence—the TrueAllele analysis of the DNA test results and the testimony supporting it—is so material that it would probably produce a different verdict."

Today, Gates accepted an "Alford plea" to lesser charges to gain his release. Under Alford, a defendant asserts his innocence and does not admit to the criminal act. But he concedes that the prosecution's evidence could persuade a jury to find him guilty. While the Georgia courts had granted Gates the right to a new trial, after forty years in prison the 63-year old man felt he had served enough time.

"I've fought for 43 years for this day," said Gates. "I always had faith it would come, even when others weren't sure. I am an innocent man. I did not commit this crime. What happened to me is something that should never happen to any person. But I am not bitter. I thank God that I am here, and I am happy to be free."

Today, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation uses their TrueAllele system to solve hard DNA problems. Pittsburgh-based Cybergenetics provides TrueAllele computer services to everyone – prosecutors, defenders, police, and innocence groups.

In Gates, innovative science overcame federally imposed DNA failure. Yet there are hundreds of thousands of past and future criminal cases with "inconclusive" DNA results. This untapped forensic resource awaits TrueAllele resolution to get better justice through science.



Johnny Lee Gates after his release from prison.
Photograph courtesy of the Georgia Innocence Project.

Links


  • Patents - Cybergenetics
  • When DNA is not a gold standard: failing to interpret mixture evidence - The Champion
  • TrueAllele Casework on Virginia DNA mixture evidence: computer and manual interpretation in 72 reported criminal cases - PLoS ONE
  • TrueAllele helps Johnny Lee Gates get a new trial after forty years in prison - Cybergenetics
  • Georgia Supreme Court affirms Johnny Lee Gates right to a new trial based on TrueAllele evidence - Cybergenetics
  • Columbus man freed after serving 43 years for murder he claims he did not commit - Ledger-Enquirer
  • Justice Through Science - Nonprofit Organization Website
  • Georgia man freed after 43 years for crime he denies committing - Atlanta Journal Constitution
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