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Virginia may check DNA data in crimes

RICHMOND, Va. -- Governor Mark R. Warner is reviewing a proposal to test samples of DNA evidence from thousands of crime scenes, after genetic tests exonerated a man who had served 22 years in prison for two rapes. It was the third such recent reversal in Virginia.

''The justice system is an imperfect system," a Warner spokeswoman, Ellen Qualls, said yesterday. ''We neither want innocents jailed nor the guilty free."

Arthur Lee Whitfield was released on Aug. 23. He was the third Virginia inmate to have been exonerated since 2001 based on evidence in the files of a former state lab analyst, Mary Jane Burton. Two men freed through Burton's data had served a combined 36 years; they received restitution of more than $1 million each.

Burton, who died in 1999, worked in the lab from 1974 to 1988 and saved copious amounts of DNA evidence before the genetic data became a staple of law enforcement and the courts. Since then, Virginia has been a leader nationally in the use of DNA evidence in criminal prosecutions.

Warner is studying a proposal he requested from Paul Ferrara, director of the state Division of Forensic Science, for sampling of biological material dating back two decades. Ferrara did not respond to a call yesterday.

''The governor decided that we needed to take a look at what we had in some logical fashion," Qualls said.

Whitfield, 49, was convicted in 1982 of two rapes on Aug. 14, 1981. Both women identified him as their assailant.

The DNA samples that cleared Whitfield implicate a man who is serving a life sentence for an unrelated rape, prosecutors have said. At the time of the trial, DNA testing was not available.

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