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OC prosecutors, defense attorney at odds over who should do DNA tests in Kenneth Clair case

Orange County prosecutors and the attorney for a homeless man imprisoned for the 1984 killing of a Santa Ana nanny are at odds over which lab will conduct newly court-ordered DNA tests from the crime scene.

Supporters of Kenneth Clair, convicted solely on circumstantial evidence in 1987, hope the analysis of evidence not previously tested will clear him of murdering 25-year-old Linda Faye Rodgers. Previous testing on vaginal swabs taken from Rodgers did not match Clair.

Senior Deputy District Attorney Seton Hunt is protesting the use of a private lab, Pure Gold Forensics of Redlands, contending it does not qualify to do the work under state law. Pure Gold and its affiliates do not share their test results with the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System (CODIS), but participate with another national system. Hunt also opposes some of the testing proposed to be performed.

In an email to Clair’s attorney, Michael Mortenson, Hunt added that the law allowing the new testing does not exist to “enrich” private labs. He suggested the testing be done by the Orange County Crime Lab.

Mortenson said in a motion he does not oppose the county testing the material, but only after it is first analyzed by an independent lab. At Pure Gold, analyst Suzanna Ryan would oversee the testing.

Ryan is the analyst who uncovered problems with the DNA testing done by the Orange County Crime Lab in a 1988 cold-case murder. Those problems caused prosecutors to offer a plea bargain last year that led to the immediate release of defendant Daniel McDermott.

In the Clair case, the defense plans to have tested multiple articles of clothing that were tied around the victim’s neck and head, a hammer found nearby, a knife used to stab the victim twice, and the victim’s fingernails.

Rodgers was found nude from the waist down, with a vibrator and three sticks near her legs. Among other things, analysts will be seeking skin cells left behind by the killer, or “touch DNA,” from the evidence.

A child who witnessed the killing initially told police it was committed by a White man who had previously been at the home. Clair is Black and was squatting at a vacant house next door.

Clair was partly convicted on the strength of a wiretap that caught him making statements that prosecutors say implicated him in the killing. Supporters contend those statements were taken out of context.

Mortenson and Sutton were ordered this week by Superior Court Judge Sheila Hanson to go back to the bargaining table and return to court on Dec. 1.

Source: Orange County Register

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