Attorney: DNA results rule out client from 1986 murder conviction

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – An attorney for a New Mexico man who has been locked up for 30 years said new DNA test results may have proven he’s innocent.

Jacob Duran, now 67, was convicted in 1987 of shooting Teofilia Gradi in the back of the head execution-style in her North Valley home after she was raped and robbed.

Duran had done yard work for Gradi.

At the time, an eyewitness told detectives Duran looked like the man he saw jumping the victim’s fence the night of the shooting. Police never found a murder weapon. However, they did find a hair on Gradi’s body that was similar to Duran’s.

“It was noted at trial that Mr. Duran had streaky hair so that’s why we asked for the grey hair to be tested,” said Gordon Rahn, Director of the New Mexico Innocence and Justice Program.

Duran’s case has been in the hands of the New Mexico Innocence and Justice Project since 2013.

“We’re excited about it,” Rhan said. “It’s kind of vindication of the investigation that we’ve done for a couple of years.”

The New Mexico Innocence and Justice Project review decades-old cases looking at questionable convictions.

In 2015, the group asked a judge to look at Duran’s case, this time using new technology to test DNA evidence from the crime scene. Specifically, what was found under the victim’s fingernails and a hair found on her body. Monday in court they announced those results.

“So far, everything we have been able to test has excluded Mr. Duran,” Rhan said. “What the DNA testing does, is basically invalidates the expert testimony provided by the two state’s experts. One who had said that blood found at the crime scene could not exclude Jacob Duran as the source. DNA testing has excluded him as a source of that. The same is true of a hair that was found at the crime scene.”

Now Duran’s defense will move forward with a motion.

“He’s always maintained his innocence and we’re glad we got the results that we did,” Rhan said.

Duran’s defense has 30 days to file a motion to vacate the conviction. The state then has another 60 days to respond before a hearing can be set.

The Attorney General’s Office tells KRQE News 13 even if the judge decided to vacate the conviction and send the case back to trial, it would get an automatic appeal.

The state said it feels its case remains strong.

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