New York Times
February 6, 2002
Convict's DNA Sways Labs, Not a Determined Prosecutor
By SARA RIMER
PHILADELPHIA -- In the summer of 1986, two women who did not know each other were raped in the same housing complex in King of Prussia, a suburb of Philadelphia.
In May 1987, Bruce Godschalk, 26, who had been working for a landscaper, was convicted of both rapes, largely on the basis of a confession to detectives that he recanted long before his trial. He was sentenced to 10 to 20 years in prison.
Recent tests by two laboratories hired by the prosecution and the defense came up with the same results: both rapes were committed by the same man, and that man was not Bruce Godschalk.
Even so, the Montgomery County district attorney, Bruce L. Castor Jr., whose office convicted Mr. God schalk, has refused to let Mr. God schalk out of prison, saying he believes that Mr. Godschalk is guilty and that the DNA testing is flawed.
Asked what scientific basis he had for concluding that the testing was flawed, Mr. Castor said in an interview today: "I have no scientific basis. I know because I trust my detective and my tape-recorded confession. Therefore the results must be flawed until someone proves to me otherwise."
Mr. Castor said he wanted more time to review the results, and that if he concluded Mr. Godschalk was innocent, he would release him.
The case highlights the difficulty of people in prison in obtaining DNA tests. Mr. Godschalk fought for seven years for DNA testing, with Montgomery County prosecutors battling against him and state judges backing the prosecutors, said Mr. God schalk's lawyer, Peter Neufeld, of the Innocence Project of the Cardozo School of Law in New York City.
Last August a federal district judge in Philadelphia, Charles R. Weiner, found that Mr. Godschalk had a constitutional right to post- conviction DNA testing, and ordered Mr. Castor to release the evidence for testing. (Last week, faced with a similar question in a Virginia rape, an appeals court came to the opposite conclusion, overturning a decision by a district judge who had ordered testing for an inmate.)
Mr. Castor then retained the Cellmark Diagnostics Laboratory in Maryland. Mr. Neufeld said Cellmark divided the evidence, retaining half of it to test, and sending half of it to Dr. Edward Blake, a forensics expert retained by the defense.
DNA testing has freed more than 100 wrongfully convicted people in the last decade, with about a fifth of those convictions resulting from false confessions.
Mr. Godschalk's only prior arrest record was for possession of four grams of marijuana and driving while impaired, said David Rudovsky, a Philadelphia lawyer who is Mr. Godschalk's co-counsel. His photo was in police files because of the marijuana arrest.
Six months after the two rapes, Mr. Godschalk's picture was one of an array of mug shots of possible rapists shown to one of the victims by a police detective, Bruce Saville, from Montgomery County. After studying the photos for more than an hour, the victim identified Mr. Godschalk as her rapist, Mr. Neufeld said. The second victim could not make an identification.
After several hours of interrogation by Mr. Saville, Mr. Godschalk made a taped confession. Mr. Saville did not tape the hours leading up to the confession, Mr. Rudovsky said.
Mr. Godschalk later said he had given a false confession because the detective had threatened him and provided inside information to make his confession appear more credible, Mr. Rudovsky said. His motion to suppress the confession was denied during the trial, and the confession was upheld by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
Mr. Rudovsky has asked the trial judge in Mr. Godshalk's case, S. Gerald Corso, to release Mr. Godschalk from prison immediately.
Mr. Castor said today that before he would "release a rapist into society, I want to know whether the scientific evidence is accurate or not."
Dr. Blake, who is a leading forensics DNA expert, and whose Richmond, Calif., laboratory did the DNA testing for the defense, said that the rapist had left the same genetic signature in both rapes. That signature, he said, "is expected to occur in no more than a few human beings who have ever lived." It was not Mr. Godschalk's signature, he said.
Gary Harmor, a forensics serologist with a well-respected lab in San
Francisco, reviewed both the defense and the prosecutor's DNA test reports
today at the request of The New York Times
The defense's DNA report was completed on Jan. 16, the prosecution's on Jan. 30.
Mr. Neufeld asked Pamela Newall, who recently retired as head of the DNA unit of the Center of Forensics Sciences in Ontario, and is also an accrediting inspector for the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors, to review the reports today.
Ms. Newall said the tests excluded Mr. Godschalk as the rapist.
Asked what the chances are of laboratory error, Ms. Newall said: "Nonexistent."
Mark Stolorow, the forensics expert who runs the lab in Germantown, Md., retained by the prosecution, said today that because of client confidentiality he could only talk with a reporter about the test results with the permission of his client, Bruce L. Castor.
Mr. Castor said he would not permit Mr. Stolorow to discuss the results. "I will talk for the government," he said.
Copyright © 2002, New York Times Company. All rights reserved.
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