ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A state judge agreed Thursday to order new DNA testing for Jacob “Jake” Duran in a 1986 felony murder in which identity was the key issue.
Attorney Nicholas Davis, who began researching the case as a student at the University of New Mexico School of Law, told 2nd Judicial District Judge Stan Whitaker that even the state’s most compelling physical evidence revealed only that Duran could not be excluded as a source of blood found under the victim’s fingernails.
Davis and Gordon Rahn, supervising attorney of the New Mexico Innocence and Justice Project, argued on behalf of Duran, an ill, 67-year-old inmate at the men’s prison in Grants, who did not appear for the hearing.
DNA advances over the past three decades have been so significant that much more can be gleaned from samples, some of which remain in sealed envelopes at the Albuquerque Police Department that Rahn has viewed, according to the Innocence Project petition filed in April on behalf of Duran.
Although APD initially responded, the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office conducted the investigation.
“Modern nucleic and mitochondrial DNA testing of the fingernail clippings and collected hairs will likely produce admissible evidence,” says the petition seeking to reopen testing.
Duran was charged with the felony murder of Teofilia Gradi, 64, at her home in the 6000 block of North Fourth Street within days of the Dec. 19, 1986, discovery of the body by Gradi’s daughter, Anita Bush.
Gradi was found on the floor of kitchen, with her head in a pool of blood, while Christmas foods she had been preparing burned on the stove.
She had been shot four times in the head, jewelry was taken from her body and the home was burglarized, according to a police report.
It also said her bra had been pulled up, exposing part of her breast.
None of the valuables was ever recovered, Davis told Whitaker.
Assistant Attorney General Anne Kelly said she wanted to be present for the inventory of materials to be tested.
Whitaker said he didn’t sense any real opposition from the state, noting that new testing could either clear Duran or inculpate him. “I don’t see any real harm in allowing it,” he said.
Rahn said that a small grant from the state Department of Public Safety is available that would pay for some retesting at the state forensics laboratory. But if mitochondrial DNA tests are needed, the samples must be sent out of state – and Kelly said neither the state nor APD was willing to pay for that.
The state’s response noted that both Gradi and Duran had the same blood type and 6 of 7 enzymes in common, so it was not possible tell whether it was Duran’s blood under the victim’s nails.
The sole eyewitness at the 1987 trial was a neighbor who thought he had seen a man jump over a fence in front of Gradi’s house.
According to Duran’s petition, the witness didn’t recognize anyone in a photo lineup shown to him by law enforcement, but picked Duran’s photo as the person who “most resembled” the man he had seen.
Mistaken eyewitness identification is the leading factor in wrongful convictions, according to research cited by the Innocence Project, accounting for three quarters of the people convicted but later exonerated.
The witness said he’d called police after seeing a television news story on the murder.