Systemic failures in DNA testing leads to release of Bermudan man wrongfully convicted and imprisoned for more than 10 years

Tuesday 7 May 2024

Julian was represented by Icah Peart KC of Garden Court Chambers, Amanda Clift-Matthews of Doughty Street Chambers and Vaughan Caines of Forensica Legal (Bermuda), instructed by The Death Penalty Project at Simons Muirhead Burton LLP.

The below content has been reproduced from a Death Penalty Project release.

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In a rare act, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, the highest court in Bermuda, ordered the immediate release of Julian Washington on bail. A final order will follow quashing his conviction, on the basis of fresh evidence undermining the safety of his original conviction for murder over 10 years ago.

The appeal, originally listed to be heard in June 2024, was abruptly halted after lawyers representing the Bermudan government conceded that forensic evidence presented at Julian’s original trial was flawed and could not be relied upon.

Julian was convicted on 6 May 2014 for the murder of Stefan Burgess and the attempted murder of Davano Jahkai Brimmer. The prosecution’s case relied on forensic evidence, including DNA on bullet casings. He was sentenced to life imprisonment, with a minimum of 30 years imprisonment before his release would be considered. Julian has consistently maintained his innocence.

In 2021 The Death Penalty Project, a UK-based legal action NGO who specialise in appeals to the Privy Council, took on Julian’s case. We sought to obtain fresh evidence to challenge the forensic evidence at trial, on the basis that it was flawed, imbalanced and wrongly implicated Julian.

The Privy Council granted permission for Julian to appeal his conviction on 15 February 2023 and a hearing was listed for 17 and 18 June 2024.

The DNA evidence

At Julian’s original trial, the prosecution relied on the evidence of Ms Candy Zuleger, the then laboratory director of the now defunct Trinity DNA Solutions. She gave evidence before the jury that there was a 1 in 46,000,000 (forty-six million) chance that Julian was not a possible contributor to the DNA found on the bullet casings near the scene of the crime. This was inaccurate and should not have been placed before the jury.

The case relied on the expert opinion of Dr Dan Krane of Wright State University. He concluded that it would have been more appropriate to characterise the testing of the casing as “inconclusive” and exclude the evidence against Julian entirely. Dr Krane found that there were significant errors in the methodology used and in the calculation and explanation of the statistical weight attached to the DNA evidence in Julian’s case.

The prosecution was forced to reconsider their position in light of the expert evidence presented, leading to today’s decision to immediately release Julian on unconditional bail until the final order quashing his conviction is delivered.

Trinity DNA Solutions were frequently engaged as experts by the Government of Bermuda in criminal prosecutions. The Government have recognised that Trinity DNA Solutions were not complying with the accepted practice at the time and did not have appropriate protocols in place. The same forensic laboratory has also worked with prosecutors in The Bahamas and the United States, raising alarm of possible widespread miscarriages of justice.

Parvais Jabbar, Co-Executive Director of The Death Penalty Project said:

The prosecution’s decision to concede the appeal and not seek a retrial is a complete vindication of the years Julian has maintained his innocence. However, whilst Julian is now free, this case raises wider concerns that expert evidence that is fundamentally flawed, has been wrongfully used to secure convictions in potentially many cases. The Government should conduct an urgent inquiry into other possible miscarriages of justice which may have occurred because of the systemic failings this case has identified.

Dr Dan E. Krane, Professor of Biological Sciences at Wright State University said:

The errors made by Trinity DNA Solutions were similar to those that inspired the creation of the Texas Forensic Science Commission which found that DNA test conclusions needed to be re-evaluated for hundreds of cases.  Will there be a similar review of cases in the jurisdictions where Trinity DNA Solutions has provided evidence?

Notes to Editors

The Death Penalty Project (DPP) is a legal action NGO based at, and supported by, London legal firm, Simons Muirhead Burton LLP. The organisation has special consultative status before the United Nations Economic and Social Council. DPP provides free representation to people facing the death penalty worldwide. It uses the law to protect prisoners facing execution and promote fair criminal justice systems, where the rights of all people are respected.

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