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Law > News Hits

Questionable conviction

He's spent half his life in jail; now the evidence suggests he was innocent

 

Published 7/1/2009

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After spending nearly half his life in prison for the rape of a 9-year-old Detroit girl, a 54-year-old Michigan inmate is asking a Wayne County judge to release him because new lab tests purportedly show he could not have been the attacker.

Last week, attorneys for Karl Vinson filed a motion in Wayne County Circuit Court asking that his conviction be set aside. He is currently in Jackson prison serving a 10- to 50-year sentence for first-degree criminal sexual conduct and breaking and entering.

Tests performed by independent forensic biologists in June, at Vinson's lawyers' request, on samples of Vinson's saliva and semen prove he could not have been the girl's attacker, according to documents filed in court.

"With this science, there's no question," says Bridget McCormack, co-director of the Innocence Clinic at the University of Michigan Law School, which represents Vinson.

McCormack and co-director David Moran have met with Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy and say they are encouraged by her response.

"She is cooperating with us," Moran says.

Worthy issued a statement through spokeswoman Maria Miller. "The Wayne County Prosecutor's Office is investigating the matter," she says. "We will have no further comment about this and we will argue our position in court."

In early January 1986, the victim and her then-8-year-old sister were sleeping in their home near Dequindre and Eight Mile roads when a man climbed through their bedroom window. He raped the victim in her bed while her sister slept. Telling her to count to 50 before getting out of bed, he left through the window, according to court documents.

She made it to 10 before going to her mother, who was sleeping on the living room couch, according to court documents. The mother called the police.

Although her daughter had not identified Vinson as her attacker before the mother suggested his name, the police arrested him later that day. Vinson was the ex-husband of a former family babysitter, although the victim had not seen him in three years, according to testimony.

As part of the investigation, the Detroit Crime Lab tested the girl's underwear and bed sheet, finding blood and semen. DNA testing was not available in 1986, but such samples could be tested for blood type, provided the person the sample came from was a "secretor."

If a person is a "secretor" — and about 80 percent of people are — their blood type also shows up in other bodily fluids. If the person is a non-secretor, then the blood type does not appear in saliva, semen or other fluids.

The samples from this attack showed only O-type blood, the same as the victim's. Vinson is AB, according to court records.

Paula Lytle, the Detroit Crime Lab forensic scientist who tested Vinson before his trial, found then that he was not a secretor, and as such, his blood type would not appear in the evidence.

But tests performed this month at NMS Labs in Willow Grove, Penn., show that Vinson is a secretor, says Arthur Young, a forensic biologist with the lab.

"Therefore, [he] could not have been the source of the semen," in the 1986 sample, he says.

The testing procedures were different, according to records. Lytle used a portion of test strip from a sample of Vinson's saliva. She said in an affidavit filed this week that it was possible the portion she tested did not contain saliva and therefore her results could be inaccurate.

Young, meanwhile, tested a piece of gauze that Vinson had held in his mouth, thoroughly coating it with saliva, he told Metro Times. "Since Mr. Vinson chewed on it thoroughly, there was no blank area," Young says.

Vinson's motion is before Judge Vera Massey-Jones, who presided over the 1986 trial. No hearings are scheduled, her office said this week.

News Hits is edited by Curt Guyette. Contact him at 313-202-8004 or NewsHits@metrotimes.com.

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