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Reliability of DNA testing must be shown

July 09, 2002|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

Prosecutors will have to prove that the method used to test DNA evidence in the 1994 stabbing deaths of a Hagerstown couple is reliable and generally accepted by the scientific community to keep the evidence in the trial, Washington County Circuit Judge Frederick Wright said Monday at a motions hearing.

"That's going to be your burden," Wright told Washington County Assistant State's Attorney Joe Michael. "It's not the burden of the defense to show to the contrary."

Wright scheduled another hearing for Aug. 7 at 9 a.m., during which the DNA evidence will be discussed.

The defense had motioned that the DNA evidence be excluded from the retrial of Russell Wayne Wagner, 49, who is charged in the stabbing deaths of Daniel Davis, 84, and Wilda Davis, 80, in their home at 109 W. Wilson Blvd. on Feb. 14, 1994.

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Their bodies were found the next day tied to chairs with pillowcases covering their heads.

Wagner was tried six years ago in the case, but a judge declared a mistrial after a Garrett County, Md., jury failed to reach a unanimous decision.

Authorities charged Wagner with the crime again last year, this time based on evidence using DNA testing methods not available at the time of the original trial.

Wagner has been held in the Washington County Detention Center without bond since the case was reopened through a grand jury indictment.

In January 2001, police and prosecutors said hair and blood samples taken from a glove found three blocks from the crime scene in 1994 was resubmitted to the FBI laboratory and the Bode Technology Group in Springfield, Va.

Advances in DNA testing methods since 1994 resulted in a match of the recovered hair with the DNA in a blood sample taken from Wagner, according to court records, which also noted that blood found on the glove matched a sample from Daniel Davis.

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