'Southside Strangler' executed in Va.

April 28, 1994|By New York Times News Service

RICHMOND -- Timothy W. Spencer died last night in Virginia's electric chair, becoming the first person executed in the United States for a conviction based on the DNA-matching technology popularly known as genetic fingerprinting.

Spencer, known as "the Southside Strangler," was convicted of raping and strangling four women over 11 weeks in 1987. No victim survived to identify him, no fingerprints were found, and no one confessed. Then DNA tests linked semen from the crime scenes with Spencer's blood.

Spencer died at 11:13 p.m. at the Greensville Correctional Center, 60 miles south of Richmond.

He clenched when he received the first of four jolts in the oak electric chair .

Less than a half-hour earlier, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a last minute appeal by Spencer's lawyers for a retesting of the genetic evidence. A court spokesman said Justice Harry A. Blackmun had cast the lone dissenting vote.

Earlier in the day, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals denied a request by Spencer's lawyers for a stay so new DNA tests could be run.

Spencer's execution was expected to be the first of many such sentences imposed as a result of DNA matching.

DNA, the body's genetic code, can be used to tie suspects to crimes by matching strands of DNA in samples of their blood to strands found in semen or blood stains found at the scene of a crime. Scientists have testified that such matches can be made with a high degree of certainty, estimating the odds of an error at one in millions. Such evidence, not introduced in U.S. courts until 1986, is now in wide use and has been the basis of many capital convictions.

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