Two Convicted Men Cleared by DNA
09-30-00

HOUSTON, Texas (AP) - Two men cleared of rape convictions by DNA evidence are causing Texas officials to review old cases and question the reliability of eyewitness testimony.

``What we're seeing is the system correct itself,'' University of Houston Law Center professor Sandra Guerra told the Houston Chronicle. ``We shouldn't see these same kinds of cases repeat.''

DNA evidence last week cleared Anthony Robinson, convicted of raping a woman at the University of Houston, and Carlos Lavernia, who was thought to be a serial rapist in Austin.

Robinson, 39, said he is happy to get his life back, but wonders where he would be if hadn't spent more than a decade in prison. He was convicted in 1987, two years before DNA evidence was admissible in Harris County courts. He was sentenced to 27 years in prison and paroled in 1997.

Lavernia, convicted in 1985, was sentenced to 99 years in prison; Travis County officials are working to release him. Investigators in Austin say they are now reviewing cases before 1996 for offenses, including murder and sexual assaults, where DNA testing could have been used as evidence.

At least 70 people in the United States have been exonerated by DNA evidence since the technology became available in the late 1980s, according to statistics kept by the New York-based Innocence Project. Lavernia's release would be the sixth in Texas involving DNA evidence.

When he was arrested, Robinson said he was innocent and offered a blood sample. After he was paroled, Robinson saved $1,800 to pay for the DNA testing.

Harris County District Attorney John B. Holmes Jr. said that without scientific proof, there is no foolproof way to ensure the accuracy of witnesses. Robinson was visiting a friend at the university when campus police picked him out in a parking lot as matching the description the victim had given.

``The bottom line is you can't'' ensure that kind of accuracy, Holmes said. ``The one thing justice has going for it before a conviction is the jury has to believe beyond a reasonable doubt.''

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