Attorney sues Virginia for withholding lab records

Posted at 8:11 PM, January 5, 2022 and last updated 8:49 PM, July 21, 2023

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — An attorney for a man who came within days of being executed in Virginia for a murder he didn’t commit has filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against a state agency that’s withholding records the attorney believes will show authorities could have gotten the right suspect.

Attorney Robert Hall, who has represented Earl Washington Jr. since 1985, filed the lawsuit Tuesday against the Virginia Department of Forensic Science, The Richmond Times-Dispatch reported.

Washington, with an IQ of 69, narrowly escaped being executed in 1985 after police led him into a false confession by giving him details of a killing. In 2007, Kenneth Tinsley, who is now dead, admitted he raped Rebecca Lynn Williams in 1982 and conceded that prosecutors’ evidence, which included DNA, could have proven his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt when it came to her killing.

The Department of Forensic Science has documents that could answer a question related to Tinsley, and Hall wants the public to have access to them. Hall suspects test results will show Tinsley had a unique blood marker found at the crime scene, which investigators knew Washington did not have, according to a news release issued by Hall’s attorney. Hall believes the lab results were changed for prosecutors’ convenience, depriving law enforcement of an opportunity to connect Tinsley to the crime in 1984.

When Hall sought Tinsley’s blood test results last January, Amy Jenkins, the department’s general counsel, responded that the department had documents on the results, but was not releasing them because of a criminal record exemption. Later in the year, a new law expanded the type of records that must be released. When Hall made another FOIA request, the department said it does not have to turn them over because it’s not a law enforcement agency. Hall wrote in his lawsuit that the new law applies to all public bodies.

Department Director Linda Jackson declined to answer when asked why she did not turn over the records.

The lawsuit asks a judge to find that Jenkins and Jackson violated the Freedom of Information Act and order them to stop claiming they are exempt and turn over the records. A court hearing is scheduled for Jan. 11.

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