The conclusion drawn should be simple – DNA testing of a crime scene matches a 26-year-old man who is then charged with the crime. The prosecution has an open and shut case. But wait, it’s not that simple. The San Francisco Chronicle has published an article explaining how an innocent man’s DNA was found at a crime scene through DNA cross contamination.
Raveesh Kumra’s body was found at their mansion in San Jose, CA. Kumra, a millionaire, and his wife had been beaten and their home ransacked during a home invasion robbery. His wife survived. DNA testing of Kumra’s fingernails matched a San Jose man, Lukis Anderson and he was charged with murder. Anderson spent the next five months in jail awaiting trial until a strange development occurred.
The Chronicle reports that “investigators later confirmed that he had been brought to Valley Medical Center in San Jose by a two-man crew from Santa Clara County Ambulance about two hours before the attack on Kumra began, Smith said.
Anderson was still at the hospital 12 hours after the victim was killed, the prosecutor said. His blood alcohol content was 0.40 percent, five times the legal limit for driving, authorities said.
The paramedics physically moved both Anderson and Kumra, resulting in the inadvertent DNA transfer, Smith said. Authorities would not discuss whether the paramedics had properly cleaned themselves between the two calls. Citing the unique nature of the two incidents, Smith said, “This is not going to happen on a regular basis.””
There are issues here that should raise questions. The first is Anderson’s alibi. He was at the hospital for 14 hours including the time period when the crime took place. Did the District Attorney believe the hospital records were in error? In addition, Anderson’s level of intoxication was at a level that could cause death yet he was suspected of being involved in a relatively sophisticated home invasion robbery.
The second issue is the oversight of the crime scene processing and the possibility of DNA cross contamination, which received worldwide attention in reversing Amanda Knox’ conviction. Much attention has been paid to the accreditation and standards applied to crime labs as they analyze evidence. I think that, for the most part, many look only to the actions of law enforcement during the crime scene analysis. However, this case shows that ensuring the reliability of forensic analysis starts with anyone who is involved with the chain of custody of evidence.
Anderson is fortunate that he was at the hospital. If he had not been so intoxicated or remained at the hospital, Anderson could have very well have been another wrongful conviction.