Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Death-row inmate pins hope on Texas lab

NEW PORT RICHEY — In December, death-row inmate Samuel Jason Derrick won the right to have evidence in his 1988 murder conviction tested for DNA.

The Innocence Project, a nonprofit legal clinic that has used DNA testing to exonerate and free dozens from death row, hopes to do the same for Derrick.

But first the clinic had to find someone to actually do the tests.

This month, the Innocence Project finally lined up a lab and got the judge's blessing to ship the evidence from the 1987 stabbing of a Moon Lake store owner.

Circuit Judge Stanley Mills agreed last year to DNA testing of evidence — a partly eaten hot dog, blood found under a picnic table and scrapings from the victim's fingernails — with one caveat:

"Initially the judge wanted a Florida lab," said Innocence Project attorney Alba Morales.

That was five months ago. Morales told the St. Petersburg Times the Innocence Project couldn't find a lab in Florida that could meet the defense's most important criteria: be able to perform certain cutting-edge DNA tests and enter the test results into the FBI database known as the Combined DNA Index System, or CODIS.

But a lab in Dallas, Orchid Cellmark, can do all the things the judge and defense want done, Morales said. At a May 13 hearing, all sides agreed to ship the evidence to Texas.

The order is still being drafted, but once it's done, the evidence will be sent via Federal Express from the Pasco County Sheriff's Office. The Innocence Project is footing the bill for the tests, which could cost thousands of dollars.

Then the real wait will begin. It will take months before the test results are known — assuming there's anything left that can still be tested.

Derrick was 20 when he was arrested for the 1987 murder of 55-year-old storekeeper Rama Sharma. The victim was found slashed and stabbed to death in his blood-soaked Moon Lake store. Missing was $360.

Detectives said that Derrick broke down during an interview and confessed: "All right, I did it."

But in 2007, Derrick recanted, saying a detective coerced him into a false confession by threatening to put his infant son in foster care.

Derrick said he had been abused in foster care. Now 41, he has spent more than half his life behind bars, on death row.

Jamal Thalji can be reached at or (727)


Death-row inmate pins hope on Texas lab 05/28/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 4, 2008 4:23pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Tampa moves to put freed slave Fortune Taylor's name back on historic bridge


    TAMPA — City Hall has agreed to return a long-lost honor to the memory of Fortune Taylor, a freed slave who amassed more than 30 acres near downtown Tampa after the Civil War.

    The Laurel Street Bridge over the Hillsborough River was once known as the Fortune Street Bridge in honor of Madam Fortune Taylor, a former slave and businesswoman who amassed 33 acres on the east bank of the Hillsborough River after the Civil War. The City Council voted Thursday to put Taylor's name on signs posted at the foot of the bridge and seek a historical marker telling her story. SKIP O'ROURKE  |   Times (2016)

  2. Bucs' Mike Evans, Bills cornerback Gaines could face off again


    Bucs receiver Mike Evans has gone up against four Pro Bowl cornerbacks in five games, and on Sunday he could be lining up against a corner he has a history with in Buffalo's E.J. Gaines.

    Bucs wide receiver Mike Evans (13) makes a touchdown catch over Arizona Cardinals cornerback Justin Bethel (28)  Sunday  in Glendale, Ariz. [LOREN ELLIOTT | Times]
  3. Tie in Clearwater downtown development board election causes runoff

    Local Government

    CLEARWATER — The Oct. 10 Downtown Development Board election for three open seats did not result in the historic dynamic it had the potential to create.

  4. Bucs Cannon Fodder podcast: The importance of Kwon Alexander's return


    Greg Auman talks the importance of Kwon Alexander's return Sunday in Buffalo in his latest Cannon Fodder podcast.

    Bucs middle linebacker Kwon Alexander, pictured during training camp in July at One Buc Place. [LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times]
  5. Top 5 at Noon: Live from Gainesville before Spencer's speech; Why Trump's definition of 'fake news' is wrong


    Here are the latest headlines and updates on

    Richard Spencer, head of the National Policy Institute and self-described creator of the term "alt-right,"  will speak at the University of Florida today. [Getty]