November 20, 2007
DNA tests bolster Heins' innocence
By Paul Pinkham,
Prosecutors had argued that the unexplained DNA may have
come from a mattress the couple had recently purchased. The new
evidence puts that theory to rest, Link and Scheck said.
|Lawyers for Chad
Heins said Monday that new state tests linking
unidentified semen from his slain sister-in-law's bed to DNA from her
fingernails cast further doubt on his guilt in the 1994 Mayport murder.
The semen also matches foreign strands of hair found on the Tina Heins'
body. None of it matches Chad Heins or his brother, Jeremy, a sailor
who was on a Navy ship when his wife was fatally stabbed.
Chad Heins, 33, has been jailed 13 years for murdering his
sister-in-law but won a new trial in July after lawyers for the New
York-based Innocence Project convinced a judge to allow new DNA testing
in 2003. His conviction and life sentence were thrown out based on
fingernail and hair evidence that suggested someone else's presence in
That evidence has now been bolstered by the matching semen, said Barry
Scheck, co-founder of the Innocence Project. The new DNA tests were
conducted for prosecutors by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
"It's a big deal," Scheck said. "Every time a new piece of biological
evidence was tested, it came back consistent with Chad Heins' innocence
and a third party's guilt."
The retrial had been scheduled for Dec. 3 but was postponed
indefinitely Monday by Circuit Judge L. Page Haddock. He is scheduled
to hear motions related to the new evidence next week.
Robert Link, Heins' Jacksonville attorney, said he agreed to the delay
because the testing has gone in Heins' favor, and he hopes he can
convince prosecutors to drop the case.
State Attorney Harry Shorstein wouldn't discuss the case Monday
The latest test results aren't even in
writing and haven't been
reviewed. An FDLE spokeswoman said the agency couldn't discuss them.
Chad Heins has said he was passed out drunk on the living room couch in
April 1994 when Tina Heins was stabbed 27 times and raped in a nearby
bedroom. Three fires were set in the apartment.
A jury convicted Heins in 1996 of murder and attempted sexual battery
on the strength of prosecutors' arguments that he was the only person
in the apartment and that his blood was found mingled with his
sister-in-law's in a sink drain. They said witnesses heard him tell his
brother, "I didn't mean to do it."
Chad Heins contacted the Innocence Project in 2001. Haddock threw out
the conviction in December, and a new trial was ordered in July.
Chad Heins (R)
The Heins Case
April 1994: Tina Heins is raped and stabbed 27 times
in her Mayport apartment while her husband is stationed on a Navy ship.
Police charge her brother-in-law, Chad Heins, with murder and rape. He
said he was passed out drunk on a nearby couch during the slaying.
January 1997: Chad Heins is sentenced to life in prison after jury
convicts him of first-degree murder and attempted sexual battery.
2001: Heins contacts the Innocence Project, co-founded by attorney
Barry Scheck, in New York to investigate cases where DNA could
exonerate people wrongfully convicted.
2003: Circuit Judge Charles Arnold grants Innocence Project motion to
allow retesting of DNA in Heins' case.
Dec. 23, 2006: Circuit Judge L. Page Haddock dismisses Heins'
sentence on the basis of DNA evidence from Tina Heins' body that
suggested a man other than the Heins brothers was in the apartment.
Prosecutors appeal Haddock's order.
July 16, 2007: State Attorney Harry Shorstein drops the appeal and
plans to retry Heins for first-degree murder and attempted sexual
battery. The trial is scheduled Dec. 3.
Nov. 19, 2007: Haddock postpones the trial indefinitely. Heins' lawyers
state DNA tests bolster the theory that an unidentified man, not Heins,
committed the murder. The tests link a semen stain on Tina Heins' bed
to the evidence from her body.
"It completely blows out of the water any notion that the sheet picked
up a stray hair," Scheck said. "That is completely absurd."
Chad Heins' stepmother in Wisconsin said she is grateful for any news
that bolsters his innocence but said waiting for justice has been
"It's kind of like you don't know what to feel because he's still in
there. You hate to get your hopes up," said Mary Heins. "It's like, how
much more time before this is over?"
Tina Heins' mother declined comment.