Robbery, Kidnapping, and Homicide Convictions Overturned for Fred Lawrence and Paul Jenkins
(Missoula, MT) DNA linked to a convicted killer helped exonerate two men after 23 years. Upon motions brought by the Montana Innocence Project, Judge Kathy Seeley of Helena has overturned the 1995 Robbery, Kidnapping, and Homicide convictions of Fred Lawrence and Paul Jenkins. The two men had received life sentences in prison after a jury convicted them of the crimes. In 2015, MTIP filed petitions for DNA testing of certain physical items of evidence. While the lab results were pending, MTIP discovered other new evidence of their clients’ innocence, including the admissions of another man, David Nelson. In early 2018 the DNA results were received, and are “clearly favorable to Defendants Jenkins and Lawrence,” wrote Judge Seeley in her order. “No DNA linked to Jenkins and Lawrence was found. The result…matches the DNA of David Nelson – a man known to have committed similar violent kidnappings, robberies, and, in Deer Lodge, homicides.” Judge Seeley further noted, “(State) investigators have been unable to establish any connection between David Nelson and Defendant Jenkins or Defendant Lawrence.” Further, Judge Seeley noted that the DNA evidence and other evidence presented by MTIP “far exceeds the standard of a reasonable probability of a different outcome at trial.” The State of Montana now must decide whether it will re-try Lawrence and Jenkins, or whether it will proceed against Nelson. “We are very pleased with the Court’s Order overturning the convictions against Fred Lawrence and Paul Jenkins,” said Larry Mansch, Legal Director for the Montana Innocence Project. “Many people – most notably our attorneys Toby
Cook, Thad Adkins, Larry Jent, our investigators Spencer Veysey and Michael Wark, and our student volunteers – worked countless hours for this result. I particularly commend Dr. Greg Hampikian of the Boise State University Innocence Project, who provided critical testimony and analysis regarding the DNA evidence.” Mansch noted that analysis by Dr. Hampikian’s Boise State University laboratory was performed under a Kirk Bloodsworth Post-Conviction DNA Testing Program from the U.S. Department of Justice grant. The Boise team used TrueAllele software by Cybergenetics to develop profiles from key evidence. “We worked with the Montana Innocence Project on this case for 5 years,” said Dr. Hampikian. “They left no stone unturned, and found the evidence that tells the whole story.” MTIP staff attorney Toby Cook noted the power of scientific evidence. “The DNA evidence is overwhelming in this case, and we are very pleased with Judge Seeley's Order. However, Mr. Lawrence and Mr. Jenkins will never get back the 23 years they were in prison."
MTIP attorney Larry Jent was the author of the DNA statute that allowed for testing. “I was proud to work on the law that provides for critical DNA testing in cases like this. This is one of the most gratifying results in my entire legal career. This is why you go to law school. I am humbled and honored to be one of Fred Lawrence’s lawyers, and to be part of such a great team of lawyers and volunteers seeking justice. Judge Seeley’s ruling corrects a terrible injustice” MTIP founder and President Dan Weinberg echoed the staff’s feelings. “Our organization is dedicated to freeing wrongfully convicted individuals like Fred and Paul,” Weinberg said. “We are happy that the court has recognized the obvious injustice that occurred in this case, and we are determined to carry on the fight for our clients. Justice will finally occur when they are freed, and that day is coming.”
“I have been waiting for this moment for many, many years,” said Fred Lawrence. “I am very grateful for the amazing and dedicated work of the Montana Innocence Project. Their lawyers, experts, and investigators worked tirelessly on my behalf. Thank God for the Montana Innocence Project.”