Nearly a decade into his life sentence for murder, Lydell Grant was released from a Texas prison on bond thanks to a new computer software program that identified the real source of a mixture of DNA.
Thanks to the computer analysis, Grant, 42, the judge recommended in December that Texas’ highest criminal court vacate his conviction. His attorneys are hopeful a ruling is made in the coming weeks.
For Grant’s exoneration hinged on the DNA evidence being sorted out by a new computer algorithm, which reanalyzed the unidentified DNA which led to the discovery of a new suspect, who has been charged after police said he confessed.
At Grant’s trial in 2012, prosecutors centered their case on the eyewitness testimony — a practice that the Innocence Project argues plays a major role in defendants’ being wrongfully accused. In addition, jurors heard about DNA collected from fingernail scrapings from the victim’s right hand. The DNA was actually a mixture of two people: the victim and a second male profile.
Houston’s police crime lab could not conclude that the other DNA was Grant’s, but the state’s expert’s testimony suggested to the jury that it “could not be excluded.”
Jurors also heard from Grant’s alibi witness, who said he was with Grant on the night of the murder, but his testimony failed to sway them, court documents show.
Grant was found guilty of first-degree felony murder. From his jail cell in Harris County, he began writing to anyone he thought could help including the Innocence Project who contacted DNA expert Angie Ambers, an associate professor of forensic science at the University of New Haven in Connecticut.
Ambers was familiar with a type of DNA technology known as “probabilistic genotyping.”
Ambers learned of one such software program created by Cybergenetics, a small company in Pittsburgh that had analyzed DNA samples from unidentified victims of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
It was worth a shot: Ware requested the raw DNA data from the Harris County District Attorney’s Office, and then it was shared with Cybergenetics and run through its program, TrueAllele. (The name is a play on the word that signifies the different forms a person’s genes can take.)
The company offered a free preliminary screening, and the software did what a human could not do: determine that Grant’s DNA did not match that of the unknown male profile.
Ambers had a hunch that something was off when she first reviewed the case because a large number of alleles present in the DNA mixture were inconsistent with Scheerhoorn’s or Grant’s profiles. But she said TrueAllele’s discovery alone wouldn’t guarantee that Grant would be cleared of a crime because he was convicted by a jury.
Typically, federal, state and local law enforcement and government crime labs can upload an unknown profile into the database and compare it for a possible match against that of one of the more than 14 million convicted criminals and those arrested already in the system. The process, for instance, can help authorities link crimes from several scenes to a single person.
The South Carolina crime lab’s search resulted in a hit. The DNA profile belonged to a man in Atlanta named Jermarico Carter, who police say left Houston shortly after the murder. Carter also has a lengthy criminal record, and Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo said in a statement in December that he confessed to the killing.
Acevedo at the time also issued a rare apology to Grant and his family, “as they have waited for justice all these years.”