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NM IJP in court on Monday: New DNA evidence proves innocence of client

December 14, 2017 - Tamara Williams

Prof. Barbara Creel
Professor Barbara Creel, Director of the New Mexico Innocence and Justice Project, says that the case of client Jacob Duran is an important one relating to the discretion of the court to review a DNA case and grant relief.

For nearly 30 years, Jacob Duran has maintained his innocence since his arrest and 1987 conviction.

The New Mexico Innocence and Justice Project at the UNM School of Law took the case in 1987, and on Monday, December 11, the Second Judicial District Court in Albuquerque heard IJP’s Motion to Dismiss the case and conviction against Duran.

NM IJP Director Barbara  Creel  says that the underlying case involved the murder of an elderly woman, “an investigation with a bad eyewitness ID,  ‘shoeprint’ junk science and  rudimentary science on blood and hair comparisons that led to our client being the only suspect in this (still unsolved) home robbery.”

“The DA argued that the biological evidence was ‘identical’ to Mr. Duran’s,” says Creel. “New DNA evidence conclusively excludes Mr. Duran from the blood and hair that was used to find probable cause for arrest.”

Decision on important DNA case expected later in December

The case was argued by pro bono counsel Nicholas Davis (’2014), a former NM IJP student who worked on the case while in law school. Current NM IJP students provided research and drafting support under Creel’s support.

Counsel for Duran argued these issues of first impression:

  1. What is the definition of Exculpatory under the statute, and;
  2. What standard should the court adopt to determine whether our evidence meets the definition?
Jacob Duran
NM IJP client Jacob Duran has maintained his innocence since his arrest and 1987 conviction. On December 11, NM IJP argued in court that DNA rejects the only independent evidence that the state had to include him as a suspect and to convict him.

The argument laid out that the new DNA evidence that excludes Duran from the crime scene, contrary to the original evidence presented by the state.  The lab analyst from the New Mexico Department of Public Safety testified that the DNA evidence excluded Duran, contrary to what the jury heard in 1987. 

An Assistant Attorney General argued on behalf of the State of New Mexico that the court should apply an exonerative standard (exceptionally high) under the statute, and offered that the new evidence in this case did not meet the standard. The state is in favor of finality and against reopening or setting aside the case. Davis was able to point to a legislative fiscal impact statement that demonstrated that the legislature considered including a standard like clear and convincing or preponderance of the evidence, but rejected that language in favor of no definitive standard and allow the court to use its own discretion. 

“The DNA rejects the only independent evidence that the state had to include him as a suspect and to convict him,” says Creel. “It is an important case relating to the discretion of the court to review a DNA case and grant relief.”

The judge did not rule from the bench but will take it under advisement.  A decision is expected later in the month. 

Case gets full support of NM IJP, Law School deans, legal community

In addition to providing research and drafting support, the full NM IJP class also reviewed the case, discussed the argument in class and with the pro bono counsel, and worked in strategy sessions with counsel and a team of experts.

Brittany Edwards (Class of 2018) and Maya Lindgren (Class of 2019) provided critical documents from the record that proved important in the hearing. Both students said that it was exciting and affirming to see their work placed before the court in an innocence case.

All students were invited to attend the hearing, and those present were able to see direct and cross examination of the forensic DNA expert from the New Mexico crime laboratory on her analysis and findings.  

“The hearing went well,” says Creel. “Thanks to the UNM Law Deans and their support, Gordon Rahn, the former director of NM IJP, attended to provide litigation support. IJP supporter and Board member Tova Indritz was one of the host of attorneys on hand to watch and learn, as were students and the media. Also in attendance were the victim’s family members.  NM IJP reached out to them to offer condolences in such a difficult and sensitive matter.”

“NM IJP thanks all who worked on the case over the years and those who were present or sent words of support on Monday!” says Creel. “We also again offer and renew our condolences to the family who have relived some of the terrible facts of the underlying murder that still remains unsolved from the perspective of IJP.”