DNA Testing Exonerates New York Man Who Might Have Been Executed

After spending more than a decade in jail for a crime he did not commit, Douglas Arthur Warney has been exonerated and will be freed from prison in New York based on DNA evidence.  Police maintained that Warney had confessed to the crime. Warney is a poorly educated man with a history of delusions and suffering from an advanced case of AIDS.  He originally faced the death penalty for the 1996 stabbing murder in Rochester, but was ultimately convicted of second-degree homicide and sentenced to 25 years in jail. Prosecutors tried to block recent DNA tests that revealed that blood found at the crime scene could not have come from Warney. The test concluded that the blood belonged to another man, Eldred L. Johnson, Jr., who has since confessed to being the sole killer in the crime and is in prison for a different killing and three other stabbings.

Though no forensic evidence linked Warney to the crime, prosecutors used his false confession - which defense attorneys say was based on facts fed to him by a homicide detective - to overcome weaknesses in the case. During Warney's trial, prosecutors said that blood found at the crime that did not match the victim or Warney could have belonged to an accomplice, but that Warney was the killer based on his detailed confession. Despite providing details regarding the crime, Warney's confession was also filled with inconsistencies. According to trial testimony, Mr. Warney told the detective he had driven to the victim's house in his brother's car, although the brother had not owned the car for six years before the murder; he said he disposed of his bloody clothes after the murder in a garbage can, but none were found in a search of the can, which had been buried in snow from the day of the crime; he also said he had an accomplice, naming a relative who, it turned out, was in a secure rehabilitation center.

Warney joins a long list of people who have falsely confessed to crimes they did not commit. "The cops created a false confession by feeding nonpublic details to Doug. Their conduct was criminal, plain and simple," notes Peter Neufeld of the Innocence Project, one of the attorneys representing Warney. Based on the results of DNA testing and Johnson's confession to the crime, prosecutors have agreed that the charges against Warney, who is now in a wheelchair, should be dismissed. (New York Times, May 16, 2006).  See Innocence.