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Justice and Science

Trials and Triumphs of DNA Evidence

George ’Woody’ Clarke

Publication Year: 2007

George "Woody" Clarke has been renowned for years in legal circles and among the news media because of his expertise in DNA evidence. In this memoir, Clarke chronicles his experiences in some of the most disturbing and notorious sexual assault and murder court cases in California. He charts the beginnings of DNA testing in police investigations and the fight for its acceptance by courts and juries.

Published by: Rutgers University Press

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pp. ix-x

Protecting innocent suspects and identifying those who actually commit crimes against society are probably the two most important goals of any system of justice. For hundreds of years police, attorneys, and courts have used the tools at their disposal to attain these treasured goals. ...

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pp. xi

This book is an account of my involvement in DNA cases over a period of fourteen years while I was a prosecutor in a local district attorney’s office. The inspiration to put that experience into writing comes from the extraordinary results DNA technology provided over that time period. ...

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Introduction: Science in the Courtroom

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pp. 1-2

Sherlock Holmes, Sam Spade, and Jessica Fletcher spent careers tracking down suspects responsible for committing crimes. The fact they are fictional characters is of little significance. Their tools—like those used by real-life detectives and investigators—saw little change from the nineteenth century to modern times. ...

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Chapter 1: The Scientist Becomes a Victim

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pp. 3-8

Dr. Helena Greenwood, a British citizen who had immigrated to the United States with her husband, Roger Franklin, was a molecular biologist engaged in research for a medical-diagnostics firm. Greenwood (she used her birth name in her work) and her husband...

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Chapter 2: A New Prosecutor

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pp. 9-15

I certainly wasn’t a likely candidate for becoming involved in pioneering the introduction of DNA evidence in trials. I had done everything I could to avoid taking science courses in high school and college. Law school was an easy choice for me. ...

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Chapter 3: The Transition to DNA Evidence

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pp. 16-23

I followed up on the tip that the blood experts had given me. To begin, I had to understand the basics of a revolution in genetics and molecular biology. By reading scientific journals and reaching out to the blood-test experts I knew, I learned why James Watson, Francis Crick, and Maurice Wilkins...

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Chapter 4: The Fight for Acceptance

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pp. 24-33

The first cases in San Diego in which DNA evidence was offered proved to be difficult tests of the legal system. Many other forms of scientifically obtained evidence, ranging from fingerprints to drug-test results, had become accepted in courts not only in the United States but also around the world. ...

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Chapter 5: A Stranger Rapist and a Murderer: Early Success with DNA Evidence

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pp. 34-43

As the use of DNA evidence became common, some trials were avoided. Defendants connected to sex crimes by the scientific tool of DNA testing frequently decided to simply plead guilty. But the other side of the coin was equally important. ...

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Chapter 6: A Double-Edged Sword: DNA for and against the Prosecution

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pp. 44-63

DNA became the defining part of my career. Lectures became a way of life. Whether at the local Kiwanis, Lions, or Rotary club, university and law school classes, or meetings of state and national organizations, I tried to educate the...

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Chapter 7: A Child and a Critical Nightshirt

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pp. 64-75

Child-molestation cases are often the most difficult, challenging, and draining ones for investigators, lawyers, and judges. They can evoke primitive and emotional responses from jurors and court watchers alike. ...

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Chapter 8: DNA and a Football Hero Collide

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pp. 76-97

On Friday, June 17, 1994, I was sitting in our new house in the Mission Hills area of San Diego watching a National Basketball Association play-off game on television, when a curious news flash came across the screen. ...

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Chapter 9: Back Home in San Diego: An Unusual Rape Case

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pp. 98-107

San Diego seemed quiet compared with Los Angeles. Prosecutors and staff in my office, judges, and other lawyers were extremely supportive. The assistant district attorney, Greg Thompson, asked me what I wanted to do after the ordeal of the Simpson case. ...

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Chapter 10: When a Match Is Not a Match

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pp. 108-117

Many of the other deputy district attorneys in my office, along with prosecutors across California and the country, were becoming accustomed to using DNA evidence. I always found it interesting at the outset of my lectures to ask how many of the prosecutors in attendance had tried a case that included DNA evidence. ...

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Chapter 11: Exonerations, Databases, and STRs

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pp. 118-135

Scientists were busy in the 1990s finding additional locations on the DNA molecule that could be tested with PCR-based methods. The fact that these techniques could be used on small samples, as well as the speed with which the testing could be accomplished,...

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Chapter 12: A National Approach

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pp. 136-145

As we saw in the previous chapter, Paul Vasquez was caught and eventually convicted by DNA testing evidence. What perhaps stood out most about the case was his decision to testify in his own defense. ...

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Chapter 13: The District Attorney’s Office Searches for Innocence

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pp. 146-161

District Attorney Paul Pfingst and Assistant District Attorney Greg Thompson were interested in the progress of the commission. Although our work seemed to go slowly, at least we were making inroads into the problems of unsolved cases and postconviction testing. The president’s signing of the backlog bill was a gigantic step forward. ...

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Chapter 14: DNA Takes to Television

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pp. 162-171

The search for innocent inmates wasn’t restricted to the in-house work of the district attorney’s office or that of the Innocence Project at Cardozo University. One day my telephone rang, and one of the most interesting conversations I had ever taken part in ensued. ...

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Chapter 15: The Tragic Case of a Small Child

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pp. 172-178

Eritrea, a small African country, found itself embroiled in civil war in 1984. A six-year-old girl, Frewoini, immigrated to the United States with her family to avoid the dangers in her homeland. Her life in the United States was difficult, even though she was...

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Chapter 16: A Cold-Hit DNA Match Solves an Old Crime

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pp. 179-186

The Daily Planet was a popular night-spot for young couples and singles in September 1993. Located along the ocean on Garnet Avenue in the Pacific Beach area of San Diego, it was typically hopping on a Friday night. September 10 was no different. ...

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Chapter 17: Helena Greenwood Revisited

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pp. 187-193

The investigation of the murder of Helena Greenwood in San Diego had continued in 1987, even after David Paul Frediani had been sentenced to prison for his San Francisco Bay Area sexual assault on her. Detective Dave Decker, who originally investigated...


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pp. 195-200


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pp. 201-216

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About the Author

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George “Woody” Clarke is a judge of the San Diego Superior Court, appointed in 2003. Prior to obtaining that position, Clarke had been a deputy district attorney for the County of San Diego for twenty years. During that time he tried numerous felony offenses, including capital crimes. ...

E-ISBN-13: 9780813543949
E-ISBN-10: 0813543940
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813541921
Print-ISBN-10: 0813541921

Page Count: 224
Publication Year: 2007

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Clarke, George, 1951-.
  • DNA fingerprinting -- United States.
  • Forensic genetics -- United States.
  • Public prosecutors -- California -- San Diego County -- Biography.
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