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U.S. Supreme Court justices might take DNA evidence case

WASHINGTON -- William Osborne was accused of raping a prostitute at gunpoint, beating her with an ax handle and leaving her for dead in the snow. His lawyer declined a DNA test of the evidence, thinking that it would confirm his guilt.

WASHINGTON -- William Osborne was accused of raping a prostitute at gunpoint, beating her with an ax handle and leaving her for dead in the snow. His lawyer declined a DNA test of the evidence, thinking that it would confirm his guilt.

Osborne was convicted, spent more than a decade in prison and gave a detailed confession to a parole board. But after recanting that confession, the Alaska man won a federal lawsuit seeking new DNA tests he now says can clear him, a judgment that was affirmed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit. It is the first time an appellate court has ruled that an inmate has a federal constitutional right to such testing.

Now, the Supreme Court is being asked to evaluate that ruling in a case that pits the administration of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, the Republican vice presidential nominee, against a Republican-appointed judge who accuses her state attorney general of being "obstinate" in blocking Osborne from testing the evidence used to convict him. The high court debated Alaska's request to take the case in a private conference on Friday and could announce its decision as early as today.

The case has focused attention on a legal venue that has been largely exempted from the national movement toward post-conviction DNA testing: the federal courts. More than 220 wrongfully convicted inmates have been exonerated by DNA tests since 1989, including 17 on death row, according to the Innocence Project, which is representing Osborne.

But nearly all DNA lawsuits are filed in state courts because 44 states have passed laws allowing inmates to petition for post-conviction testing. If the Supreme Court upheld a federal right to testing, it could accelerate the national trend.

Related Topics: U.S. SUPREME COURT
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