The Times-Union


November 20, 2007

DNA tests bolster Heins' innocence

By Paul Pinkham,
The Times-Union
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 her apartment.

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 afternoon.

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)
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' conviction and 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 announces 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 say 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.
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.

"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 frustrating.

"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.

paul.pinkham@jacksonville.com, (904) 359-4107


Recent Cases
Truth in Justice