The Utah Supreme Court Tuesday rejected the appeal of a convicted child abuser and in so doing gave a stamp of approval to a type of DNA testing new to Utah.
State prosecutors say the high court's decision gives weight to the test's scientific reliability and means that both prosecutors — and defendants — have a powerful new tool.
For Raymond Butterfield, 39, the DNA test pointed to guilt.
The South Salt Lake man was convicted of raping a young girl and sexually abusing two others at a backyard slumber party in 1998.
Butterfield ripped open a tent where two of the girls were sleeping, raped the 12-year-old and assaulted the 10-year-old. He then assaulted an 11-year-old girl sleeping inside the house. He told the girls he would stab them if they didn't do what he said.
Two of the girls identified Butterfield in police photographs. But prosecutors' most compelling evidence was DNA testing of blood found on Butterfield's undershirt that matched the blood of one of the victims.
Polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, DNA testing has been used by criminal laboratories for some time. But a particular kind of PCR testing — called short tandem repeat, or STR — is quicker and more accurate, prosecutors said.
Assistant Attorney General Ken Bronston told the justices during oral argument in April that "evidence from a crime scene that is days, weeks and even years old can be resurrected" using the test.
He said several scientific journals and other courts have validated the test's "basic reliability."
But Butterfield's attorney, Stephanie Ames, told the court the test was unproven and that several studies of the method have been kept secret by companies who have a proprietary interest in it.
In a unanimous ruling penned by Associate Chief Justice Leonard H. Russon, the high court approved of the ruling and upheld Butterfield's conviction "based on the overwhelming endorsement by the relevant scientific literature" and "the numerous validation studies performed."
The justices also upheld the witness qualifications of the state's DNA specialist and another expert on eyewitness identification.
Ames had also argued for a mistrial after a detective testified that he obtained a photograph of Butterfield for the photo array from the "Salt Lake County Jail." She said the remark implied that Butterfield had a criminal record.
But Russon said that nowhere did Ames point to evidence "to suggest that the jury relied on (that statement) for its verdict."
"Given the totality of the evidence against Butterfield — the DNA evidence and the eyewitness identifications — Butterfield has failed to show that there is a substantial likelihood that the jury would have found him not guilty," Russon wrote.