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Posts tagged: Greg Hampikian

Idaho Innocence Project scrambles for funding

Sarah Pearce, a young Idaho woman convicted of murder in 2003 in what may be a case of mistaken identity, has a key hearing coming up in February that could win her a new trial. Christopher Tapp, convicted in 1996 of an Idaho Falls murder in which DNA points to a different perpetrator, has the victim’s mother among his advocates, seeking to free him and find the real killer.

But the Idaho Innocence Project, which has worked on both cases for at least five years, learned this month that its federal grant funding won’t be renewed. The project, housed at Boise State University, will continue to work on both those cases, but won’t take any more. “We haven’t left anybody high and dry, but there are other prisoners writing us, and I’m sending out form letters saying our intake is on hold,” said project Director Greg Hampikian, a Boise State University professor of biology and criminal justice and a DNA expert. “Every week, I get calls from the mothers.”

The Idaho Innocence Project was awarded two multi-year grants from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Wrongful Conviction Review Program, in 2009 and 2011, for work to represent people who potentially have been wrongfully convicted. Those grants, totaling nearly $450,000, allowed the hiring of a staff attorney and legal assistants; law students and others also participate. But this year, when the project applied for the next round of grants, 38 groups applied and just eight were accepted, and BSU wasn’t among them.

“I’m busy trying to find out where I can get funding,” Hampikian said. The project receives some foundation donations and does some fundraising. It gets no state funds; a portion of its fundraising goes to BSU to cover indirect costs such as use of university office space. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Idaho Innocence Project loses funding

Here's a news item from the Associated Press and KBOI-TV: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The Idaho Innocence Project has lost its primary source of funding and won't take on any new cases. Director Greg Hampikian told Boise television station KBOI (http://bit.ly/1hMG78r ) that the U.S. Department of Justice declined to renew the organization's two-year $220,000 grant. Hampikian says he's now scrambling to raise money, and though the group has enough cash to finish working on two current cases it won't take on any new work. The Idaho Innocence Project attempts to use DNA evidence to help free people that the group deems wrongfully convicted.

BSU claims records of professor’s work on Amanda Knox case are trade secrets

Andrea Vogt, a former Idaho reporter now based in Italy, reports on a public records battle with Boise State University over the work of Professor Greg Hampikian, the head of the Idaho Innocence Project and a DNA expert who has played a key role in the Amanda Knox case. Vogt has been looking into public resources, both state and federal, that have gone into Knox’s defense in the murder case in Italy, but ran into a surprising roadblock: Boise State denied her requests under the Idaho Public Records Law for Hampikian’s correspondence about the case, claiming they’re trade secrets.

Writes Vogt, a former Spokesman-Review reporter, “It raises the following questions: Do U.S. citizens have the right to know if public university resources, labs and funds were used (and how) to aid the defense of a private citizen accused abroad of murder, justly or unjustly?  What are the parameters for this kind of advocacy?  When should public universities be allowed to come to the aid of those imprisoned at home or abroad, who decides who gets help and who doesn’t, and how transparent should those university efforts be?”

You can read her full report here at her website, “The Freelance Desk.” Her work in three languages has been published by The Guardian, The Telegraph, The Week, BBC, Discovery Channel and A & E's Crime and Investigation Network, among others. For more on the Idaho Innocence Project and its funding, click here.

Hampikian on Amanda Knox case: ‘I know what happened’

For Boise State University professor Greg Hampikian, there's no mystery at all about what happened to 21-year-old Meredith Kercher, who was found murdered in 2007 in Perugia, Italy, prompting charges against her roommate, Amanda Knox of Seattle, and two others, who later were cleared. “I know what happened,” Hampikian told an audience of about 200 at Boise State University today. Kercher, he said, was sexually assaulted and murdered “by one guy - Rudy Guede.”

Guede, a drifter from Ivory Coast, was convicted of the murder and remains in prison. But just after the crime, he wasn't the one arrested - a prosecutor, based on a hunch aroused by Knox's behavior, arrested Knox, her boyfriend, and bar owner Patrick Lumumba, and theorized that three people committed the attack. Lumumba turned out to have an airtight alibi - he was working at his bar at the time. And when the DNA evidence came back, it didn't match any of the authorities' three suspects - it matched Guede. He'd left a bloody handprint in the victim's blood on her wall. His DNA was on and inside the victim, all over her room and more. “You had one guy whose DNA was all over the victim,” Hampikian said.

But rather than release Knox and her boyfriend, Raffaelle Sollecito, prosecutors went back to the  crime scene 46 days later - after many people had been at the scene, including Knox and Sollecito, who were allowed to retrieve belongings - and found a bra clasp that they tested and found showed a tiny bit of Sollecito's DNA. They also took a kitchen knife from a drawer at Sollecito's home and found it showed a tiny bit of Knox's DNA on the handle and a tiny trace of Kercher's on the blade. Hampikian said those traces, not large enough to be reliably tested, likely were the result of contamination by the testers, and that knife was not the murder weapon. The bra from which the clasp came had been collected 46 days earlier and was covered with Guede's DNA, not Sollecito's.

Hampikian headed his talk, “How science freed an innocent woman … and how bad science multiplied the victims of a terrible tragedy.” He conducted an experiment in his lab at Boise State, in which researchers collected soda cans that had been used by employees of the dean's office, and brand-new knives, still in the package from a dollar store. In collecting and tagging the cans and knives - without changing gloves between every piece of evidence, but only between every other piece - lab workers unknowingly transferred a tiny amount of one of the employee's DNA to one of the knives, though she'd never seen or touched it. That's what happened with the evidence in the Knox case, he said. “You can transfer DNA in this way.”

“This gut feeling is a very dangerous thing, especially in law enforcement, and it's a very persistent force,” Hampikian said. “I have them as well. That's the best part of being a scientist, is that you have data that tells you it's wrong.” Standards for measuring the supposed DNA on the evidence in the Knox case were lowered so far that the tests weren't valid at all, he said - and that's what the court eventually found, clearing Knox and freeing her. “All of this has to do with controls,” he said, “which, if you're in my lab, that's all you hear about.”

Hampikian is director of the Idaho Innocence Project, and is a professor of biology and criminal justice at Boise State.

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Betsy Z. Russell covers Idaho news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Boise.

Named best state-based political blog in Idaho for 2013 by The Fix

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