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Wrongfully convicted men lobby for changes to DNA databank bill

Marie Cusick
Peter Neufeld, co-director of the Innocence Project, was joined by Steven Barnes (right) at Monday's press conference. Barnes spent close to 20 years in prison for a murder he didn't commit.

Three men who were wrongfully convicted of murder were in Albany Monday, pushing for changes to a bill that would expand New York's DNA databank.

Steven Barnes, Fernando Burmudez and Frank Sterling each spent close to 20 years in prison for murders they did not commit.

The men were joined by representatives from the Innocence Project and the New York State Bar Association. The group wants measures added to the bill that would protect the wrongfully accused.

Here are the group's three main requests:

  • Change the way police lineups are conducted.
  • Institute mandatory videotaping of police interrogations.
  • Provide greater access to DNA evidence for defendants.

Although Barnes and Sterling were freed thanks to DNA evidence, Bermudez was wrongfully convicted - and exonerated - because police mishandled his case.

"It took 11 appeals to finally prove that my conviction was based on illegal identification procedures, police and prosecutorial misconduct," Bermudez says.

In a press conference last week, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said wrongful conviction measures are unrelated to the DNA databank. Cuomo says it would be a mistake to include them in the bill.

"There may be a legitimate discussion for how we conduct investigations, how we do confessions, how we do lineups," Cuomo said. "There are a lot of issues that we can discuss. This is about DNA."

However, Speaker Sheldon Silver's office says the Assembly is working on adding language to the bill that would allow for greater protections for the wrongfully accused.

Since New York's DNA databank was established in the mid 1990s, DNA evidence has lead to more than 2,000 convictions, and just 27 exonerations.

According to the Innocence Project, only one of those 27 exonerations was due to databank searching.

WMHT/Capital Region reporter for the Innovation Trail.
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