top of page
Whelpley Hanson collage_03.jpg

Recent Successes

and the Power of Expert Review

Click on underlined case headings for more information

15 year old Julie Hanson was raped and killed in Naperville, IL in 1972. Her murder went unsolved for 49 years. In 1997 Forensic Science Associates recovered DNA from sperm on the victim’s vaginal swab smear slide and panties crotch. This analysis eliminated multiple suspects and the case grew even colder. In 2015 Naperville PD contacted me at FACL. I developed a unique DNA profile from the remaining FSA sperm DNA extract; however, there was no CODIS hit. Several additional suspects were eliminated. In 2020 I suggested the victim’s panties be revisited in an attempt to harvest more sperm DNA for a genetic genealogy investigation. Although the panties stain was essential consumed from the 1997 and prior forensic samplings, I recovered approximately 360 picograms of very highly degraded sperm DNA from the perimeter of the cut-out. Whole genome sequencing of this DNA at Hudson Alpha Discovery laboratory in early 2021 was successful and a genetic genealogy search by Identifinders International identified Barry Whelpley, who lived about a mile from the victim in 1972, as a suspect. DNA recovered from items abandoned by Mr. Whelpley, living in Minnesota, matched the sperm DNA profile from the victim. Mr. Whelpley was charged with first degree murder in June 2021. Click on the title of this case for a link to the Naperville, IL PD press conference.

The Power of Expert Peer Review

The following are just a few examples in which expert peer review of the record and/or the available physical evidence greatly affected the final adjudication of the case.

Mr. Santillan was convicted of the 1997 capital shooting murder of a man in Dallas, TX and was sentenced to life in prison. A hockey team jersey which was undisputedly worn by the killer was recovered from the scene. The victim's blood was identified on the jersey pre-trial, proving its relevance to the crime. In post-conviction testing in 2009  Bode Technology DNA testing laboratory attempted to develop the DNA profile of the habitual wearer/owner of the jersey by swabbing the neck/collar area. That investigation failed. In 2014 Bode Technology laboratory revisited the jersey and swabbed the inside surfaces of the jersey sleeve cuffs. Although approximately 700pg of DNA was recovered, only 320pg was utilized for testing. A weak partial profile described as a mixture of at least two contributors including a male was developed from the jersey sleeve cuffs swabs. This result was deemed inconclusive by Bode due to the "possibility of allelic drop-out." At the request of Mr. Santillan's attorneys at Centurion, Princeton, New Jersey I reviewed the Bode casefiles. That review revealed twenty-two alleles at eight STR loci were present in the Bode result, and that Mr. Santillan could be eliminated as a contributor, and hence be ruled out as the likely owner/wearer of the jersey. At the same time, my review revealed that alleles from at least two persons other than Mr. Santillan were present at six of the genes with data. This indicated one of these two contributors was the likely habitual wearer/owner of the jersey. Based on my review of the Bode work, I submitted a declaration describing how a fresh and different approach to investigating background biology on this jersey should be more successful. In a joint investigation with the Dallas County, TX Conviction Integrity Unit I examined the jersey in late 2021 and developed unique profiles from background biology on the jersey from a male and a female. These profiles were compatible with the "inconclusive" Bode findings, as well. The female was identified via CODIS and when contacted in 2022 by Dallas County law enforcement officials she voluntarily identified the male owner of the jersey as her former boyfriend. Mr. Santillan was released from prison in December 2022. He was formally exonerated February 22, 2023.

September 2022/December 2019: Hawaii v Dutchie Kaluna

A woman reported she was sexually assaulted by two men on December 7, 2013 and a rape kit was collected approximately twenty-four hours later. In October 2017 items in the victim's rape kit were examined at a large corporate forensic DNA testing lab as part of a federal grant to eliminate a backlog of rape kits. The laboratory analysts developed a mixture profile from the vaginal swab sperm DNA fraction which they characterized as inconclusive and not eligible for search in CODIS. My review revealed that two unique male profiles could be resolved from the Sorenson data. In April 2019 Hawaii County Police and the Hawaii County Prosecutor’s Office asked me to re-examine the victim's vaginal swabs in an attempt to develop a CODIS eligible profile as an investigative lead. That work resulted in the production of the same sperm mixture profile, a CODIS hit, and the identification and charging of both assailants.

Mr. Sullivan Walter was tried as an adult at age 17 in June 1986 in New Orleans, LA. The victim identified Walter as her assailant six weeks after the assault. ABO blood group testing was conducted on the victim's vaginal swabs and panties. Criminalists in the Orleans Parish Medical Examiner's Office and the New Orleans Police Department crime lab testified the semen on the vaginal swabs and panties was from a non-secretor. There was no dispute the semen must have originated from the assailant. The NOPD criminalist determined Walter was a non-secretor, and as such was included in the 20% of the population of non-secretors who could not be eliminated as potential semen donors. He was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.

About 18 months after his conviction it was discovered that Walter was actually a B secretor. This meant that if the ABO blood group substance testing was accurate, Walter could not be the source of the semen. In a hearing to determine whether Walter deserved a new trial, the NOPD criminalist testified the new evidence did not affect his opinion and testimony. Walter was denied a new trial.

In 2022 I reviewed the analytical reports and the trial and hearing transcripts and determined that the criminalist's hearing testimony and both criminalists' trial testimony was false. I submitted my report in August 2022. Mr. Walter's conviction was vacated and he was formally exonerated on August 25, 2022.

It was also evident from my concurrent review of two other Orleans Parish cases from that era that the same analytical conclusion errors and false trial testimony by these same two analysts and others had occurred in those cases.

In June 2010 Kendall Gordon was convicted of murder in a bench trial and sentenced to life in prison. In July 2019 at the request of Gordon's attorneys at the Innocence Project New Orleans, I wrote a declaration describing how unexamined physical evidence - particularly minimal and aged biology - in this case could benefit from recent advances in DNA technology. Post-conviction testing at Forensic Analytical Crime Lab was granted, and extensive DNA testing of multiple items revealed no evidence of Gordon's involvement in this crime. Based on this investigation a motion was filed by IPNO and joined by the prosecution to vacate Gordon's conviction. The motion stated "[T]here is clear and convincing evidence which creates a reasonable likelihood that Mr. Gordon did not commit the offense for which he was convicted and so no rational juror would find Mr. Gordon guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.” The motion was granted on December 16, 2021, Mr. Gordon’s conviction was vacated and the case was dismissed.

Mr. Castro Santos was convicted of robbery on January 24, 2012 and sentenced to 50 years in prison. In 2018 FACL tested two baseball caps believed to have been worn by the robbers, a plastic bag used by the robbers, and two sets of zip-ties used by the robbers to bind the victims. FACL produced two unique male profiles from the zip-ties, identifying one of the robbers, a co-defendant in the case. A CODIS search failed to identify the source of the second profile. Santos was eliminated as a contributor to the results obtained from the plastic bag. DNA analysis of the baseball caps was not successful although significant cellular material was recovered from both caps. In 2020 I wrote a declaration, supplementing a motion for new trial, informing the court that had the caps been examined pre-trial the DNA testing would likely have been successful. The DNA testing also allowed the introduction of new alibi evidence. In August 2021 the District Attorney's office moved to vacate Santos' conviction and dismiss the case.

In February 2010 Kaliegh Smith was convicted of the murder of Jason Anderson and sentenced to life in prison without parole. Witnesses testified they saw Anderson struggling with a man before he was shot. In 2019 at the request of Smith's attorneys I examined the shirt Anderson was wearing at the time of his murder and detected a minor DNA profile in the area witnesses said the assailant grabbed and struggled with Anderson. Smith was eliminated as the contributor. I wrote a declaration stating that had the shirt been testing pre-trial, a more robust minor profile would have been elucidated, eliminating Smith pre-trial and potentially identifying the source via CODIS. This new evidence allowed Smith's attorneys to file a new motion for relief which also exposed pre-trial prosecutorial misconduct. On June 14, 2021 the Court granted the Orleans Parish DA's office motion to dismiss the case and Smith was released from prison that same day.

On June 14, 2013, Luke Wirkkala was convicted of the murder of David Ryder and sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole after 25 years. Wirkkala claimed he killed Ryder in self defense after Ryder attempted to force him to perform oral sex. The Oregon State Police lab found a trace amount of DNA from Wirkkala on a penile swab from the victim, and the state argued this finding demonstrated the oral sex was consensual. In 2018 Wirkkala's conviction was vacated due to trial court error and new trial was ordered. My review of the OSP DNA testing revealed the trace amount of DNA from Wirkkala on the Ryder penile swab was not compatible with consensual oral sex, and there was no saliva/DNA from Wirkkala on Ryder's pubic hair or in the crotch of his underwear. I testified in his retrial, and in April 2021 Mr. Wirkkala was found not guilty, after spending 8 years in prison.

bottom of page