Man Drops Dna Challenge, Admits Rape

January 09, 1991|By Jay Apperson | Jay Apperson,Staff writer

Dropping his challenge of forensic DNA testing, an Annapolis man yesterday admitted raping a woman under a parked tractor-trailer in a Parole shopping center.

But a defendant in another sexual offense case who had questioned the constitutionality of Maryland's law allowing "genetic fingerprints" into evidence will challenge the reliabilityof such testing when his case goes to trial later this month, a defense attorney said.

Tracy Wright, 29, of the 2000 block Generals Highway, faces up to20 years in prison after pleading guilty to second-degree rape yesterday in county Circuit Court. In exchange for the guilty plea, prosecutors will drop charges of first-degree rape -- which carries a maximum penalty of life in prison -- and armed robbery.

At about 4 a.m.on Sept. 15, 1988, Wright robbed and raped a 22-year-old woman working as a night clerk at the Econo Lodge in the Parole Plaza on Riva Road, according to court records and Assistant State's Attorney Ronald M. Naditch. Naditch said Wright twice raped the woman at knifepoint, first behind some bushes behind the hotel and then beneath a tractor trailer parked at the Parole Plaza shopping center.

Three months after the incident, police closed the case without an arrest. The investigation was reopened, however, after Wright was arrested in April 1989 for robbing a woman at knifepoint in a parking lot near the hotel.

Naditch said tests conducted by a private laboratory concluded that DNA recovered from semen on the woman's underpants matched Wright's genetic make-up -- a result with only a one in 24 million chance for error.

Wright, a former garbage man who is serving a three-yearsentence for the April 1989 armed robbery, is scheduled to be sentenced for rape on Feb. 11.

Wright was one of two defendants who lastAugust argued Maryland's law allowing DNA test results into evidenceis unconstitutionally vague because it fails to list standards for reliable testing procedures or to establish qualifications for testinglaboratories.

DNA testing, in which a person's genetic makeup is graphically represented as a "fingerprint" similar to a supermarket universal bar code, has been hailed as a test of unparrelled accuracy.Because of its purported ability to use a trace of blood or semen tolink with near-certainty a suspect to a crime scene, it's been called the greatest breakthrough in forensic science since the traditionalfingerprint. Lawyers agree it is one of the most powerful pieces of evidence that can be presented to a jury.

But questions about the infallibility of this technology have been raised by defense attorneys across the country, most notably in a landmark case in which DNA evidence against a Bronx janitor's helper accused of murdering a pregnant woman was dismissed because of sloppy scientific procedures.

Responding to the arguments presented last August by attorneys for Wright and 30-year-old Michael James Jackson, county Circuit Judge H. Chester Goudy Jr. upheld Maryland's law allowing DNA test results into evidence. But Goudy also ruled defense attorneys would get the chance to review procedures to analyze DNA test results used by Cellmark Diagnostics. The Germantown company, one the two largest private labs inthe country performing the tests, performed the tests for county prosecutors.

Goudy left the door open for a further challenge to Maryland's law by ruling that defense attorneys would be entitled to a pretrial hearing on the "general acceptance in the scientific communityand the reliability of a particular procedure involved in this case"if they proposed evidence of "unreliability and inaccuracy" in the test results.

No challenge was offered to the DNA tests linking Wright to the rape, because the state's case, which included a victim'spositive identification of the defendant, was "extremely strong" even without test results, said defense attorney Charles M. Carlson. Carlson said Jackson will challenge the DNA test results at his trial, scheduled for Jan. 22, but he would not reveal the basis of that planned challenge.

Jackson, of the 1100 block Cedar Avenue, Shady Side,is charged with a first-degree sex offense and burglary in an incident in Shady Side on Feb. 20, 1988. Court documents say a man kicked in a door in the 1200 block Poplar Avenue and then followed a 27-year-old woman upstairs. He threw her against a wall, punched her, threatened to kill her in front of her children and then forced her to perform oral sex, the document says.

Court records show tests conductedby Cellmark in June 1989 concluded that DNA recovered from the woman's nightgown matched Jackson's genetic make-up.

Court records showJackson, while free on $200,000 bond, was charged with attempted rape and assault in connection with a May 28, 1990 incident in Shady Side. In that case, a woman told police a man burst into her home in the1700 block Lake Avenue at 3:10 a.m., punched her in the eye and grabbed her around the neck. When the woman grabbed a pair of scissors and began stabbing the man in the face, the man threw her down and threw a bicycle on her before fleeing.

Blood left on the scissors was of the same type and contained the same rare "genetic marker" as Jackson's blood, court records show. Jackson is being held without bond.

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