Kerry Robinson Leaves Prison a Free Man
Invalid and Overstated Forensics
Incentivized Cooperator / Perjury
CO-COUNSEL: Rodney Zell
Colquitt County, Georgia
Colquitt County, GA | February 15, 1993
The story began on February 15, 1993, when three teenagers broke into the home of a 42-year-old woman in Moultrie, Georgia, and brutally raped her at gunpoint.
The rape survivor identified two individuals from 14 pages of a local junior high school yearbook. She quickly and decisively selected a young man named Tyrone White as the key perpetrator and ringleader. And she also identified White’s friend, who was with him that evening, but was later cleared by law enforcement after White instead accused Kerry Robinson. The rape survivor never identified Robinson as one of the perpetrators.
The rape trial was delayed nine years until 2002.
Despite having almost a decade to investigate the rape, the State presented only two pieces of evidence against Robinson at his trial:
(1) the incentivized accusation of Tyrone White, who received a lesser sentence for his testimony even though his version of events directly contradicted the rape survivor’s own account; and
(2) inaccurate and overstated testimony from a Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) DNA analyst.
Under Georgia law, an accomplice’s accusation of a defendant, like Tyrone White’s of Kerry Robinson, is not enough to secure a conviction unless there is some corroboration. In this case, the GBI analyst’s invalid scientific testimony was the only corroboration.
The sexual assault kit collected from the rape victim included a mixture of DNA from up to four different people. Two facts were immediately clear: Tyrone White’s DNA was present in the mixture, and so was the victim’s.
The GBI analyst explained that there was a very small amount of unaccounted-for DNA remaining in the mixture. The analyst initially testified that he could not conclude whether Robinson contributed to that DNA. But then the analyst shifted his testimony, indicating to the jury that there was a “very, very low” likelihood that similarities between the DNA mixture and Robinson’s DNA could be explained by random chance.
The jury convicted and Robinson was sentenced to 20 years in prison for rape.
But the GBI analyst was wrong. And competing DNA experts quickly identified that his interpretation of the DNA mixture was a problem.
Over 9 years ago, DNA scientist Dr. Greg Hampikian proved that the expert testimony in Robinson’s case was deeply flawed and likely the result of subjective bias, not math or science.
As part of a published case study called “Subjectivity and Bias in Forensic Mixture Interpretation,” Dr. Hampikian sent the DNA data from Robinson’s case to 17 DNA analysts for evaluation. Twelve analysts found that Robinson was not present in the DNA mixture; four could not draw a conclusion; and only one agreed with the GBI’s testimony. As part of his experiments, Dr. Hampikian also completed DNA testing on four staff members at a local Georgia news station and compared their DNA to that from the sexual assault kit. All four reporters’ DNA matched the DNA mixture from the sexual assault kit as strongly as Robinson, if not more strongly. All of this information was presented to a Georgia court at a habeas corpus hearing in 2012, but the court denied relief because it believed the new information simply resulted in a battle of the experts.
Years later, in 2016, a presidential commission on forensic science found that human interpretation of DNA mixtures in crime laboratories was “problematic” because of subjective bias. The report further concluded that “subjective analysis of complex DNA mixtures has not been established to be foundationally valid and is not a reliable method.”
In 2018, the GBI adopted a new DNA analytical tool called probabilistic genotyping, which uses computer science and advanced mathematics to interpret DNA mixture results.
Dr. Hampikian sent the DNA data from Robinson’s case to be analyzed using TrueAllele, the same probabilistic genotyping software used by the GBI. The analysis confirmed that the GBI trial testimony was wrong: the results instead indicated that a random African-American’s DNA is 1,800 times more likely than Robinson’s DNA to explain the mixture of DNA in the rape kit.
Robinson filed an Extraordinary Motion for New Trial presenting the new DNA test results in September 2019. The motion prompted District Attorney Shealy to reexamine the case. Shealy quickly recognized that justice required the dismissal of all charges, and joined Robinson’s counsel in asking the court for Robinson’s release.
The Georgia Innocence Project represents Robinson, along with co-counsel Rodney Zell, who has fought to demonstrate Robinson’s innocence in courts for fifteen years.