- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 18, 2009

LONDON (AP) - A British man who spent 27 years in prison walked free Wednesday after his murder conviction was overturned because of new DNA evidence in a case that may help others who have been wrongly convicted.

Following the decision, prosecutors said they may review other cases in which people were convicted before the advent of DNA profiling.

Britain’s Court of Appeal ruled that Sean Hodgson, 57, did not kill 22-year-old Teresa De Simone in 1979. She was found strangled in her car outside the pub where she worked in Southampton, 80 miles (130 kilometers) southwest of London.

Emerging from court flanked by family members and his lawyers, Hodgson, looking pale, waved at journalists and said he was ecstatic.

“It’s great to be free again,” he said.

DNA profiling did not exist in 1982, when Hodgson was sentenced to life in prison. But an analysis sought recently by Hodgson’s lawyers showed that DNA from the scene did not match Hodgson’s.

The Crown Prosecution Service, which is in charge of most prosecutions in England and Wales, said Wednesday it is considering reviewing other cases in which DNA evidence is now available and the defendants are still alive.

Hodgson initially confessed to the killing, but he later recanted and pleaded not guilty. His lawyers argued he was a pathological liar and any confession he made was false.

Few Britons serve prison terms as long as Hodgson’s, even for murder. Defense lawyer Julian Young told BBC radio that, had Hodgson stuck with his claim of guilt rather than professing his innocence, he probably would have been released earlier.

“If someone denies an offense, a very serious offense, that is a ground effectively for stopping them getting parole,” Young said.

Prosecutors had used Hodgson’s confession and a blood sample at the scene that matched his blood type to help convict him.

But Chief Justice Igor Judge said Wednesday the new DNA evidence made it clear Hodgson was not the person who attacked De Simone. Police said the investigation into De Simone’s death would continue.

The judge also revealed that the case against Hodgson could have been thrown out a decade ago, when his then-lawyers requested that DNA evidence be examined in light of new forensic techniques. The lawyers were told, wrongly, that no evidence existed to analyze.

The judge said that error is being investigated.

DNA profiling has been used to exonerate people worldwide. In the United States, more than 200 convicts have been proved innocent, according to the Innocence Project, which helps represent people whose cases could be helped by DNA testing.

Eric Ferrero, a spokesman for the organization, said 25 percent of those exonerated had admitted guilt to crimes they did not commit, either in initial pleas or to parole boards.

Ferrero cited the case of Christopher Ochoa, who pleaded guilty to a 1988 slaying in Texas to avoid the death penalty. He was freed in 2001.


Associated Press Writer Dean Carson contributed to this story.



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