Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Who Smoked That Butt?

Here's what we know.
  • In 1990 Bernhardt and Cora Hartig were murdered in their home.  Shot to death in their kitchen.
  • There were no fingerprints pointing to the killer.
  • Police found a single cigarette butt in the driveway.
  • Three co-defendants testified that Tyrone Noling was the killer.
  • All three have recanted.
  • Noling had a gun he'd used in some robberies.
  • It wasn't the gun used in the killing.
  • The gun actually used in the killing has never been found.
  • Police found a single cigarette butt in the driveway.
  • DNA from saliva on the butt was not from Noling or any of the three co-defendants.
  • Tyrone Noling is on death row in Ohio for the murders of Bernhardt and Cora Hartig.
  • There is reason to believe that Daniel Wilson, executed for a different killing in 2009, is the one who murdered the Hartigs.
  • Nathan Chesley, Wilson's foster brother, says that Wilson confessed to him.
  • DNA databases include Wilson's DNA.
  • DNA from the cigarette butt has never been compared to Wilson's.
  • The state refuses to allow the butt to be tested.
That's a lot of stuff.  Unfortunately, it leaves a whole lot unanswered.  In particular, it leaves open the question I keep asking here:
Why not test the fucking DNA?
I mean, what's the harm?
We know it won't come back as Noling's or any of the co-defendants.  That's interesting, but it doesn't mean they're innocent.  It just means the butt was smoked by someone else.
But if it was smoked by Wilson - then you've probably got the actual killer.  And Noling is probably innocent.
OK, so the state won't voluntarily test the DNA.  But we have a statutory procedure.  In 2008, Noling went to court.  Denied since the old test definitively excluded him.  The statute was modified.  He applied again.  Denied, because he'd been turned down before.  (Yes, that's why.)  So he appealed to the Ohio Supreme Court.
The state's position was simple.  He isn't entitled.  He still doesn't get to ask again.  And since the butt isn't his, it can't prove definitively that he's innocent.
To which I say (in broken-record mode), 
So what?  Test it anyway.
Look the state wants to kill Noling.  If the butt is as meaningless as they say, they can get on with it.  Instead, it's an impediment.  And it makes them look cheap and stupid.  I mean, why kick up a fuss?  Why give him a forum
Oh, yeah.  They don't wanna. I get that.
So what?  Test it anyway.
Because why the fuck not?  Because it won't prove anything?
Then where's the harm?
Which is, once again, the point.
Because if they're so sure, sure enough to kill, you'd think they'd be confident enough to just humor the guy and get it over with.
And they fact that they won't?
Doesn't that really tell you just how sure they are?
Of course, it might be nothing.  And Noling might be the killer.  
Then again.
Today, the Ohio Supreme Court agreed, unanimously, to decide whether to order the testing.
Because why the hell not?
It's maybe worth a reminder here that the Chief Justice is setting up a task force on the death penalty.  The question:
Is the system we have the best we can do?
We're still waiting to see just how that shakes out and just how serious she is.  One sign may come in the Court's decision about whether to test that cigarette butt.  It'll be a while before we know.  Stay tuned.

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