Roy Criner and Post Conviction Exculpatory Evidence





Roy Criner and Post Conviction Exculpatory Evidence

The case of Roy Criner illustrates the essence of forensic science and DNA evidence to be specific in exonerating falsely imprisoned inmates. Roy Criner was anonymously pardoned after post conviction DNA testing revealed his innocence. Despite the overwhelming evidencing espousing his innocence the prosecutor’s offices that dealt with his cases strived to seek alternative theories that supported their earlier conviction of Criner. The pardon of Criner came 10 years into his sentence.

The Sequence of Events

On September 27, 1986 the body of dead sixteen year old girl, Deanna Ogg, was found in a secluded section proximate to an old logging raid in Texas State, Montgomery County. Autopsy revealed that the cause of death was blunt trauma injuries endured by the victim to the head working in tandem with a litany of stab wounds to the neck. Additional physical evidence present at the crime scene were a clump of blond hair the victim was holding, a cigarette found next to the victim’s body, and Deanna Ogg’s clothes. Prior to the incident, Roy Criner, the suspect had bragged to friends of an aggressive sexual encounter with a young woman. The 20 year old logger, a year out of high school, was quoted having said that he had to get rough with her (Ritter, 2005). Four years after the occurrence, Criner became convicted of sexual assault and murder based on the above alleged statement together with misleading forensic evidence. The forensic expert brought forward by the prosecution testified that the results from the serology test implicated the suspect. The semen from the victim’s rectal and vaginal specimen revealed blood groups matching Ogg and the suspect. His analysis of the sample revealed that Criner and 40% of the all men were consistent with the biological evidence found at the scene.  The percentage of men within the lists of potential suspect were all those with blood group O found in the specimen. It happens Criner of the O blood group was the only one of the 40% of the male population that could be tied to the crime scene. Despite several inconsistent and contradicting witness testimonies presented, the jury found Criner guilty. A key conflicting assertion in the case emanated from the differing timelines of the murder with the prosecutor’s placing Criner at his workplace at the time of the crime.

Post Conviction DNA Testing

In 1997 further tests on the preserved semen specimen demonstrated that the biological evidence found in Ogg’s vaginal and rectal sample could not be traced to Roy Criner. The earlier testimony by the forensics expert was incorrect (Ritter, 2005). The serology test did not detect blood group substance or enzymes from external sources. As the victim’s blood group markers could have hidden foreign organisms linked to the perpetrator, no male could be excluded as the semen donor. The failure to explain to the jury that 100% of the male population was potential donors of the semen specimen was misleading.

The Texas appellate court judged that the post-conviction exculpatory evidence was not sufficient to exonerate Criner. Judge Sharon Keller aligned with the prosecutors new assertions that the semen may originated from consensual sex by the victim prior to the sexual assault given Ogg’s promiscuous history (Ritter, 2005). Similarly, Criner may have worn a condom also failing to ejaculate hence the lack of his semen deposits in the victim’s body. Neither of the two scenarios had been presented earlier to the jury. Despite the prosecution claims that the DNA exclusion of Criner did not prove his innocence they proceeded to repeat the testing on the evidence. The action implied they hoped that their initial argument would hold. The adversarial nature of prosecutors towards post conviction DNA exculpatory evidence is the norm. The prosecution is either hostile or indifferent to the appellant’s plight while they try to save face.

Subsequently, Roy sought secondary DNA testing on the Marlboro cigarette that was found near the victim’s body. DNA from a minimum of three individuals was collected from the Marlboro cigarette none of which matched Criner (Ritter, 2005). In fact, the cells found were sourced from at least one female and multiple males. Further analysis of the cellular material found on the filter revealed that the some of the DNA matched the genetic profile of the victim. The male cellular material collected from the cigarette butt wrapper was consistent with the semen sample found on Ogg’s rectal swab. The above confounded the evidence in Criner’s favor. The spermatozoa deposits were genetically compatible with the cells from the cigarette implying the assailant shared a cigarette with victim close to the time of her death. The overwhelming evidence forced the prosecution to eliminate Criner as the source of the biological evidence.

            After the presentation of the above evidence before state District Court Judge Michael in July 2000, he concluded that Criner was innocent. He committed himself towards signing a pardon request to facilitate his release. The recommendation received additional endorsement from sheriff Guy Williams and D.A. McDougal. When the recommendation was presented to the Texas board pardons and paroles in August of the same year, there was a unanimous vote to free Criner from his 99 year sentence.



Ritter, H. S. (2005). It’s the Prosecution’s Story, but They’re Not Sticking to It: Applying Harmless Error and Judicial Estoppel to Exculpatory Post-Conviction DNA Testing Cases. Fordham L. Rev., 74, 825.


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