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DNA Evidence Ruled Admissible in County

September 22, 1994|DWAYNE BRAY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

DNA evidence is admissible in Ventura County criminal cases and can be used in the prosecution of a drifter accused of five sexual assaults in Ventura and Oak View, a judge has ruled.

Dennis Fredman, who was linked to the sexual assaults and a string of burglaries through "genetic fingerprinting," had asked a Ventura County judge to dismiss DNA evidence central to his prosecution.

But Acting Superior Court Judge Bruce A. Clark, ruling earlier this week, denied the motion and said DNA evidence will be allowed to be introduced to the jury in the trial, expected to begin in November.

Clark's decision is based on a historic Ventura robbery and murder from five years ago. In 1989, Lynda Axell was convicted of murdering a hamburger-stand worker after police were able to link her to strands of long, dark hair found in the victim's hand.

"I'm ruling that this case will be bound by Axell," Clark said.

In its motion, the Fredman defense had argued that DNA evidence is not reliable and cited a handful of cases in which other trial judges and appellate justices across California have refused to allow it into evidence. The motion contended that prosecutors' estimates of how often a person's DNA appears in the general population are too inflated.

Undaunted by Clark's decision, which was reached Monday, Deputy Public Defender Gary Windom said Wednesday that he plans to present the judge with several other motions challenging the use of DNA evidence in criminal cases.

Deputy Dist. Atty Matthew J. Hardy noted that prosecutors will be required at the trial to use a conservative method of calculating how frequently Fredman's DNA appears in the general population.

Fredman is charged with 27 criminal counts, including sexually assaulting two women and three girls during a series of 1991 burglaries in Oak View and Ventura. Police say they were able to match his DNA code to genetic evidence discovered at the scene of the sexual assaults, after Fredman was arrested in 1992 for attempting to break into his ex-girlfriend's home.

Under a legal precedent set by a federal appeals court in 1923, any new technology such as DNA must have "general acceptance" in the scientific community as to its reliability before it can be used in court.

Prosecutors and defense attorneys agree that there is no significant dispute in the scientific community over how scientists process DNA evidence found at crime scenes and match it to criminal suspects.

But Fredman and other defendants contend that the method of calculating how frequent a person's DNA code appears in society is imperfect. As evidence, the Fredman defense team cited a 1992 report by a national committee formed to study the DNA issue. The study found that some scientists did not believe that the statistical methods used in DNA analysis were reliable.

But in his ruling, Clark essentially said that the controversy over the statistical analysis of DNA results seems to have been settled by using new ways of analyzing DNA results.

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