Roanoke Times
                 Copyright (c) 1995, Landmark Communications, Inc.

DATE: WEDNESDAY, April 27, 1994                   TAG: 9404270105
SECTION: VIRGINIA                    PAGE: C-4   EDITION: METRO 
SOURCE: Associated Press
DATELINE: RICHMOND                                LENGTH: Medium


Serial killer Timothy W. Spencer, the first person sentenced to die because of DNA evidence, hopes his questions about that evidence will keep him from being executed tonight.

The Virginia Supreme Court denied Spencer's request for new DNA testing Monday, but he still has a petition pending in federal court.

Known as the "Southside Strangler," Spencer was convicted of four rape-murders in 1987 in the first use of DNA evidence in a capital murder case. Barring a delay, he will be the first to be executed based on the genetic link.

After a Richmond Circuit Court judge rejected his bid for new DNA testing last week, Spencer appealed to the state Supreme Court and filed a petition with the U.S. District Court in Richmond. The state court rejected his petition soon after the state filed its reply, calling the appeal frivolous.

"The facts upon which his request is grounded are not `new' at all and, in fact, have been available to him since the time of trial," the reply said. "There simply can be no excuse for Spencer's waiting until the proverbial `eleventh hour.'''

Spencer's lawyers contend that the DNA test was unreliable because two semen samples from the crime scene were mixed together.

"There was practically no evidence against Mr. Spencer other than the results of the DNA tests. If the jury had known that the DNA evidence was so unreliable as to be nearly meaningless, it would have had a reasonable doubt about Mr. Spencer's guilt," the federal petition said.

The petition also said Spencer's trial attorneys were ineffective because they only challenged the general reliability of DNA testing and not how it was done in this case.

Gov. George Allen's office declined to say if Spencer had filed a clemency petition. Spencer's attorney did not return telephone calls.

Spencer, 32, is to die in the electric chair for the murder of Debbie Dudley Davis, the first of four people slain in a chilling string of break-ins in September through November 1987.

He has consistently maintained his innocence and prosecutors said he never would have been convicted without the evidence of DNA, or deoxyribonucleic acid. DNA, a complex molecule found in the nuclei of human cells, carries genetic information scientists say is unique to individuals.

 by CNB