DNA Results May Clear Man After 20 Years In Prison

Crime, Law and JusticeCrimeRepublic of IrelandJails and PrisonsJustice SystemHomicide

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) - A central Connecticut man convicted of a 1986 rape and murder has been freed from prison after DNA testing showed he could not have committed the crime.

Kenneth Ireland of Wallingford was released Wednesday after Judge Richard Damiani granted him a new trial. Prosecutors are expected to drop the charges.

Ireland was 20-years-old when he was sentenced to 50 years in prison after being found guilty in November 1989 of killing Barbara Pelkey of Wallingford, a New Haven suburb.

The body of the mother of four had been found nude at the former R.S. Moulding and Manufacturing Co. in Wallingford where she worked alone at night.

Witnesses testified at his trial that Ireland had admitted committing the crime. Ireland claimed those witnesses had lied to receive a $20,000 reward.

New Haven State's Attorney Michael Dearington said the investigation into the homicide has been reopened and is "being actively reinvestigated by the Wallingford Police Department and New Haven State's Attorney's Office."

Ireland is being represented by the Connecticut Innocence project, which also helped to free James Calvin Tillman in 2006, and Miguel Roman in April after they were imprisoned for crimes they did not commit.

Tillman of Hartford was imprisoned for 18 years for rape. The state eventually awarded him $5 million for his wrongful conviction.

Roman was sentenced to 60 years in prison for the 1988 murder of his girlfriend, 17-year-old Carmen Lopez, but after he served 20 years, DNA tests showed he could not have been the killer, and murder charges were dropped in April.

"This is yet another Connecticut example of an innocent person having spent two decades in prison for a very serious crime while an actual rapist and murderer has been roaming free since 1986," said Michael Lawlor, D-East Haven, the co-chairman of the legislature's Judiciary Committee. "This is not acceptable."

Lawlor said the legislature and the state's Advisory Commission on Wrongful Convictions must look at whether laws need to be changed and "whether the law enforcement community is using best practices in the investigation of cases in order to avoid wrongful arrests and convictions."

Lawlor said Ireland also is eligible to apply for compensation from the state for his wrongful convictions, and hopes that can be taken up by the legislature in the 2010 legislative session, which convenes in February.

Messages seeking comment were left Wednesday for Karen Goodrow, the director of the Connecticut Innocence Project.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times