In an en banc opinion, The Pennsylvania Superior Court recently decided that, because DNA testing could potentially establish the defendant’s “actual innocence” he is entitled to post-conviction relief, and DNA testing may be conducted on evidence collected from a crime scene in 1981. IN RE: JOHN MARSHALL PAYNE, III
On December 17, 1981, the body of a 90 year-old woman was discovered and was found to have died from blunt force trauma to the head from an unknown instrument. There was evidence consistent with the theory that she was killed during a burglary. Three witnesses testified that they heard Payne (the Defendant) make inculpatory statements to them concerning the burglary/murder. Physical evidence was collected at the scene but none that tied Payne to the crime. Payne was convicted by a jury based primarily on the testimony of those three witnesses. Thereafter, Payne filed a direct appeal and his sentenced was affirmed by the Superior Court on February 29, 1988. He filed a Post-Collateral Relief (PCRA) Petition which was denied on June 25, 1992. He appealed the denial of post-conviction relief, and the Court affirmed his conviction, with the exception of his judgments of sentence for conspiracy, burglary, and robbery. On remand, the trial court resentenced Payne on July 5, 1994.
DNA Testing Requested
On June 14, 2012, John Marshall Payne filed a subsequent pro se Petition titled “Post Conviction Relief Act petition seeking DNA testing pursuant to 42 Pa.C.S. §9543.1.” Following a hearing, the trial court issued an order granting Payne’s Petition for DNA testing. The Commonwealth appealed and the matter was affirmed by a three judge panel of the Superior Court. The Commonwealth requested en banc panel review of the matter and the panel reached the above cited decision.
In order to seek DNA testing pursuant to §9543.1, a defendant must demonstrate that favorable results of the requested DNA testing “would establish” the defendant’s actual innocence of the crime of conviction. A defendant cannot merely claim that lack of DNA at the crime scene proves innocence.
Payne claimed that the DNA testing results could be run against the national DNA databank to find the actual killer and thereby prove his innocence. The Court agreed that Payne met the “actual innocence standard” and affirmed the lower court’s order granting DNA testing.
If you are charged with a crime, or if you have been convicted of a crime and you believe that DNA testing will help your case, please contact one of our experienced lawyers at The Mazza Law Group, P.C. for a consultation.
 Forty-four (44) unique items were sent to an F.B.I. laboratory for testing.