The trial of a man challenging the reliability of forensic DNA testing began yesterday with the victim describing how her attacker broke into her house and brutally beat her during a sexual assault.
Michael James Jackson, 30, of Shady Side, is charged with first-degree sexual offense and assault with intent to rape in an attack on his former sister-in-law.
Charles M. Carlson, Jackson's attorney, said yesterday that he will challenge the reliability of DNA tests that prosecutors say show amatch between Jackson's blood and semen recovered from the victim's nightgown after the attack.
Jackson was one of two defendants who last year unsuccessfully challenged the constitutionality of Maryland's law allowing so-called "genetic fingerprints" into evidence. The other defendant, Tracy Wright, 29, of Annapolis, dropped his challengetwo weeks ago when he pleaded guilty to a charge of second-degree rape in connection with a separate incident.
Jackson and Wright had argued last August that Maryland's law allowing such evidence is unconstitutionally vague because it fails to list standards for testing procedures or to establish qualifications for laboratories.
CircuitJudge H. Chester Goudy Jr. upheld the law, but Carlson said yesterday he will challenge the DNA test in Jackson's case. The attorney saidhe would call as a witness an expert on DNA testing from the University of Alabama, but he would not elaborate on how he will challenge the test done in Jackson's case.
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 unparalleled accuracy.
Because of its purported ability to use a traceof blood or semen to link with near-certainty a suspect to a crime scene, DNA testing has been called the greatest breakthrough in forensic science since the traditional fingerprint. Lawyers agree it is oneof the most powerful pieces of evidence that can be presented to a jury.
But questions about the infallibility of this technology havebeen raised by defense attorneys across the country. In a landmark case, DNA evidence against a Bronx janitor's helper accused of murdering a pregnant woman was dismissed because of sloppy scientific procedures.
In the August hearing, Carlson said he had questions about the procedures used by Cellmark Diagnostics. The Germantown company isone of the two largest private labs in the country performing the tests.
Assistant State's Attorney Ronald M. Naditch told a jury yesterday that Jackson was responsible for a "brutal, violent, senseless,cowardly act" in which he kicked in a door of a house in the 1200 block of Poplar Avenue in Shady Side and ran upstairs to sexually assault a 27-year-old woman who was home with her two young children.
The victim testified yesterday that she was in her second-floor bedroom when she awoke to the sound of someone breaking into her home. She said a person ran upstairs -- it was too dark to get a good look at the person's face, she said -- and a man then told her he was going torape her.
"He grabbed me by my throat and he slammed me up against the wall," said the woman, who now lives in Florida. "He kept hitting me and bashing me in my face and my children were screaming. He threw me on the ground and said if I didn't do what he said he was going to kill my children."
She said she told the man she had AIDS, but he then demanded that she perform oral sex on him. She said the manthreatened to rape her 4-year-old daughter if she did not comply. She also testified the attack left her bleeding from the ears and in need of stitches for a cut on her lip.
The woman said Jackson, of the 1100 block Cedar Avenue, had been married for about two years to her older sister and had lived for three months in 1983 with her and her husband in the house on Poplar Avenue.
Court records show Jackson, while free on $200,000 bond after being charged with the Poplar Avenue attack, 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 the 1700 block of 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.
Since being charged in that incident, Jackson has been held without bond. His trial for the Poplar Avenue attack is expected to last at least three more days.