Lawyer asks appeals court to test DNA in 2001 rape case


By Joe Gorman

jgorman@vindy.com

YOUNGSTOWN

Unknown DNA on evidence does not in and of itself clear a defendant of a crime, says Ralph Rivera, a Mahoning County assistant prosecutor.

But an appellate lawyer for a man serving a 105-year jail sentence counters that it does, when the DNA is in two different pieces of evidence.

Rivera and Donald Caster, an attorney for Chaz Bunch, were in the 7th District Court of Appeals on Wednesday. They argued over Caster’s request that the appeals court remand the convictions of his client back to common pleas court for more proceedings so the DNA in question can be tested.

Bunch, 30, and three others were convicted of the rape and robbery of a woman in 2001. Bunch was 17 at the time.

Judges Gene Donofrio, Carol Ann Robb and Cheryl Waite are hearing the case.

Rivera said that unknown DNA does not mean that Bunch did not commit the crime he was convicted of.

“That alone does not establish his innocence,” Rivera said. “You would need several other pieces of evidence to establish his innocence.”

Rivera said much more evidence proves the jury made the right decision. He said a witness and a victim were “adamant” during the trial and when police were investigating when they identified Bunch as one of the people involved, and they never wavered.

Rivera also said that someone else could have handled the items that Caster says should be tested. That does not mean that the person who left the unknown DNA committed the crime.

There are reasons why another person’s DNA could show up in a test, Rivera said.

Caster said the fact that the unknown DNA was found on two items of evidence – a bandana and a rape kit taken of the victim – means there is a chance his client is innocent.

“It [DNA] can’t be contaminated,” Caster said. “It’s two pieces of evidence. There’s no explanation as to why except the state got it wrong when they charged Chaz Bunch.”

Caster said better technology exists today than in 2001 to test that DNA to see if there is enough to determine the person’s identity.

The judges will study the evidence and make a ruling within a few weeks.

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