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DNA Challenged in St. Petersburg Double Murder Case

In July 2007, Paula O'Conner and her 15-month-old son, Alijah, were murdered in their St. Petersburg home. Detectives later found a left-handed black glove - covered inside and out with DNA - was found on a couch near her front door. Law enforcement officers and prosecutors now allege Ralph "Ron" Wright Jr. wore the glove during or just after the killings.

Wright has been charged with capital murder in Pinellas County for O'Conner's death. Prosecutors called two forensic expert witnesses at trial this week to discuss the glove and its DNA.

Kristen Lehman from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement testified that her analysis couldn't "exclude" Wright as a contributor to the "DNA mixture" of skin cells she discovered on the glove. She also couldn't exclude Alijah, but O'Conner was a clear match. Lehman acknowledged that Wright is one of thousands of people whose DNA would be consistent with the evidence on the glove. Specifically, she testified that one in 83 African Americans and one in 35 Caucasians to fit that DNA mixture.

The state's second forensic witness was Amy Jeanguenat, a forensic expert from Washington, D.C.-based Bode Technology. She used a different technique to collect DNA from the glove. Jeanguenat's test could not exclude O'Conner or Alijah. It did, however, exclude Wright.

The state, thus far, seems less interested in the DNA evidence than the origin of the glove. Prosecutors allege it is identical to gloves issued to Wright's police unit at MacDill Air Force Base, where he served.

The unit's gloves were kept in a storeroom at the base. Investigators report a security video showed Wright visiting that area several hours before the slayings.

Prior to O'Conner's death, she and Wright were romantically involved. When she became pregnant, Wright disappeared. Three weeks before the murders, O'Conner sued Wright for child support and had him served on the base. The state is not required to prove motive as an element of murder. Whether the jury will believe the motive evidence is more convincing than the questionable DNA evidence is yet to be seen.

The trial is expected to continue for at least another week.

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  • American inns of court
  • norml
  • National association of criminal defense lawyers
  • Clearwater bar association
  • Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers

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