AJC Watchdog: First Alert

Keeping watch on those who hold the public trust and money

The wrong man? DNA points to different attacker in sex assault

In Georgia, you can have DNA evidence that points to your innocence but still spend the rest your life prison without any chance of freedom.

An AJC/Channel 2 series, DNA Denial, examines this issue and flaws in a 2011 state law that was intended to help help free innocent people. Perhaps no case better highlights the problems with the law than the 2001 sexual assault that put Sonny Bharadia in prison for life. 

“Some states are more open to granting a new trial based on new evidence of innocence,” said Julie Seaman, an Emory law professor who has written about Bharadia’s case in The New York Times. “Georgia, however, is one of the states where there is a narrower avenue for getting a new trial.”

No physical evidence linked Bharadia to the crime. Another man's DNA was recovered from inside the gloves used by the attacker. It took more than a decade to identify the DNA as that of a career burglar who testified against Bharadia at his original 2003 trial. But that revelation wasn't enough to get Bharadia a new trial and the courts in Georgia have denied his appeals.

The 2011 law's sponsor, former Democratic legislator Stephanie Stuckey Benfield, said her former colleagues should fix the law to ensure a new trial in cases like Bharadia's

“What’s the point of doing testing if you can’t get it back in front of the court and have a new trial?…It’s frustrating and it’s a breakdown in the system,” she said.

Read earlier coverage in the series that examined a South Georgia murder and a man serving life despite DNA evidence that points to another killer.




Reader Comments ...

About the Author

Brad Schrade is a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter on the AJC’s investigative team.