Originally created 05/04/01

Bill ends 21-day deadline for DNA evidence of innocence



RICHMOND, Va. --Gov. Jim Gilmore signed legislation Wednesday eliminating Virginia's 21-day deadline for inmates to produce new genetic evidence of their innocence. The limit was the nation's most restrictive.

The new law contains no limit on the time required to produce new DNA evidence after sentencing. Gilmore had wanted give death row inmates to have three years to petition courts for genetic testing, but the General Assembly overwhelmingly rejected the idea of setting a specific deadline.

The measure had the backing of a legislative coalition of death penalty opponents and supporters who said that removing restrictions on testing would give the public more confidence that capital punishment was being administered justly.

The Legislature acted after several high-profile cases in which DNA analysis exonerated condemned inmates, including former Virginia death row inmate Earl Washington Jr.

Washington, who was freed in February, spent 9 12 years on death row for a 1982 slaying that DNA evidence later showed he didn't commit. The sophisticated DNA testing was not available in the early 1980s.