The Alaska Court of Appeals upheld a ruling this week not to test DNA evidence in an earlier appeal in a grisly Juneau murder case.
On April 6, 1982, Juneau residents James and Ann Benolken were found dead and sexually assaulted in their Juneau apartment building, according to the facts listed in the court’s opinion. Newton Patrick Lambert was sentenced to 99 years in prison for the murder of Ann Benolken but not the murder of James, and co-defendant Emmanuel Telles was acquitted on both charges.
In 2010, the Alaska Legislature enacted Alaska Statute 12.73, that allows a person convicted of a felony against another person can apply to the superior court to test DNA evidence. Nearly 30 years after the crime for which he was convicted, Lambert filed an appeal, according to the recent opinion.
Lambert’s lawyer at the time, Jude Pate, found that a lab in California still had samples of blood and semen that had been found on James Benolken’s clothing, according to the Court of Appeals’ opinion this week. Lambert requested that these samples be tested, asserting that the samples could prove his innocence.
According to the Court of Appeals, Lambert’s theory that he outlined was that the blood and semen could yield two different DNA profiles. He theorized that the semen could have come from the person who sexually assaulted James Benolken, while the blood could have come from the person who killed Ann Benolken.
Assistant District Attorney Amy Williams (now Paige) argued that finding this DNA on James Benolken’s body couldn’t prove Lambert’s innocence because Lambert was acquitted of the murder of James and was found guilty of the murder of Ann, according to the Court of Appeals opinion.
In a 2013 ruling, the superior court agreed with the prosecution, ruling that Lambert hadn’t made a convincing enough case to test the DNA. Lambert appealed that ruling, which led to the current Court of Appeals examining that decision and releasing its ruling this week. The Court of Appeals agreed with the superior court that testing DNA on James’ body wouldn’t prove Lambert’s innocence when it came to Ann’s murder, according to its ruling this week.
Judge Marjorie Allard wrote in a concurring opinion that the state could still test the DNA if it wanted to. Allard wrote that testing DNA is relatively inexpensive, and that if the state wanted to test this DNA, it could at least clear up some of the questions surrounding this mysterious murder.
“Testing the blood and semen from Mr. Benolken’s clothing has the potential to provide answers to at least some of these questions,” Allard wrote. “Moreover, if the results are matched to DNA profiles in the national FBI database CODIS, the testing could potentially lead to the identification and future prosecution of at least one (if not two) previously unknown perpetrator(s) from this thirty-year-old double homicide.”
• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at 523-2271 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @akmccarthy.