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Convicted murderer seeks relief through DNA testing

Last of hearings held, oral arguments today on 1983 homicide conviction

Posted: January 11, 2013 - 1:04am

A judge will soon rule on whether a man who says he was wrongly convicted of murder in Juneau in 1983 has the right to DNA testing in order to show his blood and [filtered word] were not found at the crime scene.

The defense attorney for Newton Patric Lambert says DNA testing that was not available at the time of the police investigation and trial will now, three decades later, prove his client’s innocence.

“DNA evidence will demonstrate that the crimes were committed by two men other than Newton Lambert ... that were alternate suspects or should have been alternate suspects in the police investigation of the murders,” Sitka Public Defender Michael Jude Pate argued in a motion.

The last of a series of evidentiary hearings in the case was held Thursday in a Juneau courtroom before Ketchikan Superior Court Judge William Carey. Final oral arguments will be held Friday.

In the spring of 1982, Anne and James Benolken were found dead in the Lower F & L Apartments on Admiral Way in Juneau. Police said at the time the couple was raped and then stabbed to death in their apartment.

The jury acquitted Lambert, and then in another trial acquitted co-defendant Emanuel Telles in the murder of James Benolken, leaving his death an unsolved mystery.

But a jury found Lambert guilty of the first-degree murder of Anne Benolken in 1983, and he was sentenced to serve 99 years in prison in 1984. Lambert is currently serving his sentence at Spring Creek Correctional Center in Seward.

Pate wants two DNA samples tested: Item Q33, a blood stain taken from James Benolken’s shirt worn at the time of his death, and Item Q34, a [filtered word] stain on James Benolken’s pants. Both items have been preserved in a freezer at the laboratory of Forensic Analytical in Hayward, Calif., since the original police investigation.

The attorneys called witnesses to testify about the integrity of the evidence and its chain of custody during Thursday’s hearing. State statutes require that in order to obtain DNA testing, the applicant must show that the physical evidence in question has been subjected to a chain of custody and retained under conditions that ensure the evidence has not been substituted, contaminated or altered in any manner.

Pate says that blood from the first suspect got on James Benolken’s shirt when he assisted the second suspect in subduing Benolken during a violent struggle.

Pate added that the government argued at trial that Lambert seriously cut himself while stabbing Anne Benolken and that the blade broke off inside her body.

“If this were the case, then Mr. Lambert’s blood would have been found at the scene,” Pate wrote in a motion. “There was a great deal of blood evidence collected at the victims’ apartment in 1982. But because of the limited capability of forensic science at the time, there were no blood matches made at trial.”

The state of Alaska is asking the judge to reject Lambert’s request for DNA sampling, for several reasons.

State statutes require that a defendant must show a theory of actual innocence in order to obtain post-conviction DNA testing, meaning that the defendant must show that the DNA evidence would be conclusive on the issue of the applicant’s guilt or innocence.

Assistant District Attorney Amy Williams says that wouldn’t be the case if testing were allowed here. Williams argues there was “extensive” other evidence that shows Lambert committed the murder.

She wrote in a motion that Lambert’s fingerprint was found on an alcohol bottle immediately next to Anne Benolken’s body; he admitted he was in the residence the night of the murders “blacked out” from drinking alcohol and after ingesting drugs (cocaine, marijuana and “black beauty” amphetamines); and that two witnesses testified Lambert had confessed.

“Instead of acknowledging this fact in presenting his application for post-conviction DNA testing, Mr. Lambert now encourages this court to ignore the great weight of the evidence against him in this case,” Williams wrote. “In doing so, he offers no theory of the case that would definitely establish his innocence.”

Williams argues the DNA evidence that may be found on James Benolken’s body is not firmly linked to the crime for which he is convicted, the murder of Anne Benolken.

“On its face, evidence taken from Mr. Benolken would not establish Mr. Lambert’s actual innocence as to the murder of Mrs. Benolken.”

Lambert applied for post-conviction relief in February of 2010, citing not just the DNA testing request but also new evidence regarding a now-discredited FBI agent who testified at Lambert’s trial as a hair comparison analyst.

Pate says FBI Special Agent Michael Malone identified a hair found beneath Anne Benolken’s body as probably belonging to Lambert. Pate says that provided the jury with the most direct link between his client and Anne Benolken’s murder.

The Washington Post reported in 2010 that an internal investigation by prosecutors revealed that Malone gave false testimony about a hair analysis at a different trial, prompting the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Washington, D.C., to review more than 100 cases since the mid-1970s because of “potentially falsified and inaccurate tests by FBI analysts.”

Pate says the fabricated testimony of Malone has been used to support reversal of convictions in at least three other serious felony cases.

“Evidence demonstrating that Agent Malone’s expert testimony was false would probably produce an acquittal at any retrial on the only charge for which Lambert was convicted,” Pate wrote in the application for post-conviction relief.

The evidence issue regarding the FBI agent was stayed until the DNA testing issue is decided, a judge ruled earlier. Judge Carey said Thursday that he will rule on the DNA issue after final oral arguments are heard on Friday afternoon.

• Contact reporter Emily Russo Miller at 523-2263 or at emily.miller@juneauempire.com.

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