Wednesday, December 8, 2010

DNA a factor in several recent criminal cases in Manatee

Crime-fighting science continues to play a major role in major cases with ties to Manatee County.

Last year, it was revealed that a backlog in a federal database delayed a possible match between evidence found at Sarasota crime scenes and the DNA of convicted felon Delmer Smith III, which had been taken from him while he was in prison for an earlier bank robbery conviction..

During that lag time, a Manatee woman, Kathleen Briles, was beaten to death in her home, a slaying for which Smith was later charged -- and a slaying that local officials say might have been prevented if a DNA match had been made earlier.

More recently, we saw what can happen when the DNA database system works as designed.

Kevin L. Fortune on Friday was charged with sexual battery after detectives say his DNA was matched with evidence from a May 2008 rape case in Bradenton. He was already in jail on charges related to a separate case from June 2009.

And on Tuesday, Manatee County Sheriff's Office deputies arrested Willie Lee Shannon of Ellenton, after learning he was wanted in Las Vegas for murder, kidnapping and sexual assault in 1981.

The key evidence in the case, according to authorities, was Shannon's own DNA, after it was matched with semen recovered just last month from the underwear of the 18-year-old victim, Jamey Walker.

Police and prosecutors use DNA to link suspects with crimes. But defense lawyers also use it as they try to clear their clients.

For example, the Innocence Project of Florida earlier this year released DNA test results it says clear a Palmetto man, Derrick Williams, of a 1992 kidnapping and rape in Manatee County. Williams is serving life in prison, as a motion to vacate his sentence remains pending.

-- Marc R. Masferrer

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