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Discrepancy With DNA Evidence

For The Heights

Published: Thursday, March 25, 2010

Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 19:01

David Deakin, assistant district attorney for Suffolk County, Kristi Holden, a sexual assault nurse examiner, and Fred Rothenberg, NBC's Dateline producer, spoke about the limitations of DNA evidence at Robsham Theater Wednesday night.


In the spring of 2006, the case of Massachusetts vs. Darrin Fernandez was reviewed in Boston. The victim, "Kate," had been raped in her Dorchester home.


DNA evidence could have proven Darrin Fernandez's guilt in the case, but instead of being conclusive, it confused the jury even more, as Fernandez has an identical twin, Damien, who shares his DNA sequence. Either Darrin or Damien could be the rapist, but which brother was it? The dilemma pitted brother against brother, and Rothenberg was given the job of making the story into a Dateline episode.


 The episode, termed "Blood Brothers," was shown at the event.


"If this story were just two rapes in Dorchester, then it wouldn't be a Dateline story," Rothenberg said. "What makes a good story is mystery, intrigue, or infidelity."

That identical twins were both suspects in the case was intriguing, Rothenberg said. Even more fascinating to him was the betrayal factor. Darrin Fernandez's lawyer worked to plant doubt in the minds of the jurors, which he did by portraying how his brother, Damien, could also have been responsible for Kate's rape.


"The brothers were the only two that knew with certainty who was telling the truth, who did it, and the jury was going to have to figure it out," Rothenberg said.


Darrin Fernandez had been tried twice before for this particular case, but each trial ended in a "hung jury," or a mistrial. The 2006 re-trial and DNA evidence proved to be the end of the dilemma. Police were able to use alternate investigation methods, and a jury sentenced Darrin to 25-35 years in prison for the rapes.


Fernandez was already serving a 10 to 15-year sentence for the rape of Jennifer Hogrell, but the evidence presented in that case was withheld during the original trials of Kate's rape. Kate suffered through two mistrials before Deakin was assigned to her case. Deakin took a risk and called Hogrell to testify in Kate's case.


Usually, DNA evidence is considered conclusive in the courtroom. "In the normal case it's game over if a rapist's DNA is matched," Deakin said. DNA could not be used to identify the guilty party in this case, though, which is why the testimony of the two victims, Kate and Hogrell, was key evidence.


In the end, Darrin Fernandez was convicted based on traditional evidence. Both women remember their attacker speaking clearly, and Darrin's twin had a lisp. Kate remembers a shorthaired rapist, and Darrin's twin had an afro at the time of her rape. Jennifer remembers an armband tattoo on her rapist, and Darrin's twin has no tattoo on his arm, while Darrin had a tribal pattern on his left bicep.


Holden's role in the case was to perform a "rape kit," or a series of tests to collect evidence from the victim, whose body, Holden says, "is an important part of the crime scene."

Holden, who has been a nurse for over 20 years, said that until the time of the trial, she did not know that identical twins had matching DNA.


Kaitlin Vigars, BC '08, organized this event through the  Forensics Nursing Department. Vigars said she thinks that popular crime shows, like CSI, have misled people. DNA evidence is "really not the end-all-be-all" of a case, and DNA evidence will not erase older forms of detective work, she said.  "DNA isn't always the ultimate source, and it doesn't hold all the answers."


This lecture was the largest in a series of lectures organized by the Forensics Nursing Program. In February, Sergeant Pi Heseltine of the Massachusetts State Police spoke about drug-assisted sexual assault. In the fall, David Adams spoke about "Batterers Who Kill," and his book, Why Do They Kill? Men Who Murder Their Intimate Partners. Also in the fall, Ann Marie Mires, a forensic anthropologist, spoke about the use of forensics in large-scale disasters, like Sept. 11.

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