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Controversial DNA Test

Queens judge is first in nation to approve controversial DNA test

By Thomas Zambito

Thursday, February 11th 2010, 4:00 AM

A Queens judge has become the first in the nation to approve a controversial DNA-tracking technique that can nail criminals with a speck of blood or the mere touch of a finger.

Wednesday’s precedent-setting decision by Supreme Court Justice Robert Hanophy came in the case of Hemant Megnath, a man prosecutors say slashed a young woman’s throat just before she was about to testify against him in a rape case.

Hanophy sided with Queens prosecutors who want to tell jurors about a trace of blood on a seat belt in victim Natasha Ramen’s car linked to Megnath through “touch DNA” testing.

The technique has been used overseas to win convictions in several high-profile criminal cases.
Such evidence also has been used in U.S. courts, and the city medical examiner has a lab devoted to it.

But Megnath’s lawyer Todd Greenberg challenged the tests – and Hanophy held a series of hearings in 2008.

“There is still a raging debate among scientists as to the reliability,” Greenberg said, “[but] the judge ruled against us.”

Now Greenberg will have to attack the science behind touch DNA before a jury as Megnath goes on trial next week in the 2007 slaying.

The test is largely the same as traditional DNA analysis, but allows scientists to scrutinize microscopic skin or blood cells. Critics say amplifying tiny samples distorts the results.