Exonerate Kenneth Clair: DNA Evidence Points to Someone Else.
On November 15, 1984, 5-year-old Jerrod Hessling witnessed the beating, rape, and stabbing death of his babysitter. When asked to describe the killer, he said, without hesitation, that it was a white male. Another child present during the murder saw a white man’s tattooed arm reach inside the house to open a sliding glass door.
Yet somehow, the lawyers in the case determined that Kenneth Clair, a dark-skinned African-American homeless man who had been squatting next door, was the killer. When Jerrod saw him on the witness stand and insisted they had the wrong man, the prosecution chalked it up to youth and trauma and pursued the death penalty for Kenneth Clair. To this day, 31 years later, Mr. Clair sits on San Quentin’s death row, awaiting his execution date.
[UPDATE: I was recently made aware that the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals secretly overturned Mr. Clair’s death sentence and changed it to life in prison without parole. This is mixed news -- his life is spared, but he no longer has the right to an attorney under habeas corpus laws, and he has not been granted a retrial. That means the exonerating DNA evidence will NOT be seen in court. We now have to focus our energy on asking Governor Jerry Brown and California State Attorney General Kamala Harris to investigate the case and exonerate Kenneth Clair for this crime he did not commit. It is Mr. Clair’s only remaining chance for justice. ]
But that’s not the biggest bombshell in this case -- in 2008, forensic testing revealed that DNA found on the murder victim did not match Clair’s. DNA taken from a glove found at the scene also did not match. It matches another individual, but the Orange County District Attorney insists that “confidentiality is required” concerning this evidence, and for 7 years now, the identity of the person whose DNA does match the swab has remained a secret.
In the interest of justice, we must call on the Orange County DA and California state lawmakers to demand that the DNA evidence be turned over to Kenneth Clair’s defense.
Since his conviction, Clair has struggled with ineffective counsel. He wanted his lawyers to work at investigating the crime, rather than simply trying to free him from death row, but they never did. His plea for substitute counsel even made it to the U.S. Supreme Court in 2012, and he did eventually receive a switch of counsel. Finally, he is being represented by people who are dedicated to his exoneration.
But their hands are tied without this crucial DNA evidence, and more of Clair’s precious life is wasting away in prison as they fight to obtain it.
Please sign my petition if you feel that the disclosure of the identity of a possible “person of interest” is something that the prosecution should not be allowed to withhold.
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