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Prosecutors Accelerate Use of Genetic Fingerprinting

September 28, 1989|WILLIAM OVEREND | Times Staff Writer

Moving fast after obtaining the first murder conviction in California based on genetic fingerprinting, Ventura County prosecutors have already introduced similar genetic evidence in two other cases and plan to rely increasingly on the scientific breakthrough in the coming year.

One of the cases that has already reached the trial stage involves a Ventura oil field worker named Larry D. Davis, 29, accused of murdering Dawn Holman, 20, of Oxnard in August, 1988.

The other case, still in early hearing stages, is that of David Luna, 42, a Mexican national who is accused of raping a Ventura County woman in December while she was unconscious.

According to prosecutors, part of the evidence in both cases includes DNA samples drawn from semen found on the victims that matches the genetic cell pattern of the defendants.

Vincent J. O'Neill Jr., chief deputy district attorney, said the use of genetic fingerprinting in major felony cases "is going to increase steadily" in Ventura County in the wake of the Sept. 13 murder conviction of Lynda Axell.

Axell, 35, was found guilty largely because of DNA tests that matched her hair with strands of hair found near the body of George White, 63, who was stabbed to death during an attempted robbery at a Ventura hamburger stand last year.

A First in State

The Axell case was the first in California to make use of such evidence. A state appellate court will review the case, possibly paving the way for routine use of the method throughout the state.

"The use of genetic fingerprinting will increase most rapidly once there is state legislation passed establishing regional testing labs throughout the state and once the appellate courts uphold it as a valid tool," O'Neill said Wednesday.

O'Neill said that while genetic fingerprinting may ultimately be as commonly used by prosecutors as fingerprinting itself, one limiting factor at this stage is the cost of hiring experts on DNA cell matters--about $13,000 in the Axell case.

"We will be using it more and more," he said. "But in a case that is otherwise strong--where DNA evidence would make it an absolute cinch for conviction--there might be some hesitancy because of the extra cost."

O'Neill said he believes that the hesitancy will gradually fade as the use of genetic evidence becomes more commonplace and less costly.

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