Judge grants inmate request for DNA tests

KANSAS CITY (AP) — A judge has ordered that evidence in a 1987 sexual assault in Kansas City be tested for DNA, raising the hopes of advocates for a Missouri inmate who has insisted for 24 years that he did not commit the crime.

Pete Wright, 47, was convicted in 1988 of forcible sodomy and felonious restraint of a 21-year-old Lee’s Summit woman who was dragged into a sewer tunnel as she walked on the Country Club Plaza on Sept. 23, 1987.

The conviction was based partly on a hair found on the woman’s underclothing and another hair found on Wright’s clothes. The victim could not identify Wright during his trial because her assailant had worn sunglasses and a baseball cap. Wright was sentenced to 30 years in prison and has a conditional release date of Sept. 24, 2012.

Lawyers for The Innocence Project asked for the DNA testing last year and Circuit Court Judge David Byrd granted the request late last month, The Kansas City Star reported Thursday.

Wright contended during his trial that he became a suspect only because he was in the area at the time of the attack and hid from police for an hour. He said he hid because he thought he was wanted in California on a controlled substance charge.

“Hopefully, we’ll be able to get to the testing soon and that will give everybody an answer about what happened in 1987,” said Jason Kreag, Wright’s attorney.

Kreag argued that modern DNA testing on the hairs can conclusively prove whether Wright was guilty, or help identify the real attacker.

A spokesman for the Jackson County prosecutor’s office told the Star on Wednesday that authorities have not decided whether to appeal the order. In a letter this week to Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters-Baker, Kreag and Innocence Project Director Barry C. Scheck asked authorities not to appeal.

“Doing so will only delay final resolution of Mr. Wright’s case, and may mean that the actual perpetrator remains unpunished, and perhaps free to commit additional crimes,” they wrote.

In his order, Byrn raised concern about a chemist’s testimony concerning the hair samples during Wright’s trial.

“The court finds that the description during trial that the hairs ‘matched,’ potentially implied that microscopic hair comparison is more precise and reliable than it is,” Byrn wrote.

The judge said Wright demonstrated that “a reasonable probability” exists that he would not have been convicted had DNA evidence shown that the hair samples did not match.

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