DDC’s forensics division made a huge difference in a post-conviction case out of Florida in the month of October.
Here’s the backstory: Dean McKee of Tampa, FL was 16 years old in 1987 when he was convicted and sentenced to life in prison for the fatal stabbing of Isiah Walker, a displaced decorated war veteran. Dean McKee and his older brother Scott were known as angry white supremacists whose binge drinking and violence against homeless black men helped make them suspects in the investigation, and ultimately, both brothers were arrested and charged with the crime. Always quick to follow the older brother he idolized, Dean suffered the ultimate betrayal when his brother testified against him. Scott claimed Dean stabbed the victim, and he coerced two witnesses to make false statements to back up his story. Charged only with attempted murder, Scott would serve only one year of his five-year sentence.
After the conviction, Dean continued to maintain that Scott stabbed Mr. Walker, but it would take years for the science and the law to help prove his claims. Now 45 years old, Mr. McKee has new hope for freedom as a Florida judge overturned his conviction after nearly three decades trying to convince the courts that it was in fact his older brother Scott McKee who committed the heinous crime.
DDC Forensics Testing and Testimony Helps Overturn Conviction
DNA testing of the evidence, trace amounts of biological material under the victim’s fingernails and on a fishing sinker found at the scene, confirmed it was not Dean’s DNA. DNA Diagnostics Center’s Forensics Director, Dr. Julie Heinig, was retained as a DNA expert by the lawyers from the Innocence Project of Florida to help explain the scientific implications of the DNA testing conducted by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement in this case. Dr. Heinig’s competence and reputation as a DNA expert for the last 20+ years proved invaluable to the court’s decision regarding the DNA evidence. Specifically noting the scientific research and experience in her own laboratory, Dr. Heinig was able to educate the court as to the significance of the presence or absence of DNA under fingernails of a victim of a violent crime. Hillsborough County Judge Lisa Campbell took this scientific information, as well as new testimony from witnesses who recanted earlier statements implicating Dean, and overturned Dean McKee’s conviction on Oct 20, 2017. Mr. McKee remains in prison as the state attorney’s office decides if the state will drop the case or file new charges against him.
Lead defense attorney, Seth Miller, executive director of the Innocence Project of Florida stated in a release earlier this month, “It is clear to any objective observer that Dean McKee was likely framed by his older brother, who took a sweetheart deal provide false testimony implicating Dean in this murder. After hearing the scientific experts, key witnesses to whom Scott McKee provided self-incriminating evidence, and reviewing the whole record, we are pleased that the Judge agreed. “
Dr. Heinig and the Forensic team at DDC are often called on for their expertise in post-conviction cases in which DNA plays a major role. Since 2006, DDC Forensics has worked over 100 such cases with difficult and often degraded samples that may hold the key to justice. Nine such cases tested at DDC have resulted in exonerations, over 20 in confirmed guilt, and many others are still in process or unresolved.