Something to Celebrate!
GIP Exonerates Another Georgia Man
Through a first-in-the-nation initiative launched by the Georgia Innocence Project, we have a new exoneration: Michael Googe of Brunswick, GA is innocent of the 2007 burglary of a convenience store. Not only that, but our initiative also revealed the true perpetrator of the crime. Here’s how it happened.
CODIS is the acronym for the “Combined DNA Index System.” Implemented in 1998, CODIS contains DNA profiles from crime scenes (forensic profiles) and DNA profiles from people convicted of crimes (offender profiles). The Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) database contains more than 265,000 offender profiles and nearly 14,500 forensic profiles. When new forensic profiles are collected at new crime scenes, they are routinely compared to offender profiles already in the database to try to identify the perpetrator; when there is a match it is referred to as a “CODIS hit.”
But what happens when a CODIS hit points to a different perpetrator in a crime where the wrong person has already been incarcerated? We wanted to find out, which is why, working in cooperation with the Prosecuting Attorneys Council of Georgia (PAC) and the GBI, we went to the U.S. Department of Justice and secured a two-year grant to launch the project which let to Michael’s exoneration. This is how we found out about Michael.
In 2007, Michael was arrested in Brunswick, GA for a Jazz Mart burglary based on a statement by an acquaintance, Paul Anthony Wright. Police collected DNA evidence from the scene-a drop of blood on a money order receipt in the cash register-and it was sent to the GBI for testing.
In 2008, before testing was complete, Michael pled guilty to three burglaries, including the one at Jazz Mart, because he was offered a reduced sentence in exchange for an agreement not to go to trial. Less than a month later, GBI test results proved the blood at the crime scene did not belong to Michael, but this information was never provided to his defense attorney.
In 2009, the prosecutors in the case received information that there had been a CODIS hit on the blood evidence collected at the Jazz Mart. The blood matched Paul Anthony Wright, the person who told police that Michael had committed the crime. Again, Michael’s defense attorney was never informed.
The truth was only brought to light because of the project that we initiated with the GBI and PAC which revealed the six-year-old CODIS hit that proved Michael’s innocence. When PAC brought the hit to us, GIP Staff Attorney Christina Cribbs, began working with prosecutors and Michael’s current counsel, Wrix McIlvaine, to counsel, WrixMcIlvaine, to resolve the case. When Michael found out that GIP was working on his case and had found evidence of his innocence, he was overwhelmed. He, of course, knew he was innocent but never dreamed that someone would believe him, let alone prove his innocence and identify the true perpetrator.
We need to continue our work to find others like Michael. Because of our innovative work on the CODIS cases and our unprecedented partnership with the state prosecutors, we are on the forefront of developing policy about defense access to CODIS hits that will impact innocent people in every state.