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Death sentence overturned, but use of DNA tests upheld

The Florida Supreme Court threw out the murder conviction and death sentence of a South Florida man Thursday, ruling that DNA test results used to convict him were improper but affirming the value of DNA evidence.

The ruling marks the first time the high court endorsed the value of DNA evidence in Florida, even though it threw out part of the DNA evidence against Robert Hayes for the murder of a co-worker at the Pompano Harness Track.

The court said other DNA tests could be used against Hayes at a retrial _ affirming the admissibility of DNA testing.

"DNA test results are generally accepted as reliable in the scientific community, provided that the laboratory has followed accepted testing procedures," Justice Ben Overton wrote for the unanimous court.

The court said DNA technology is "evolving and must be evaluated on a case-by-case basis."

The court also overturned two other death sentences Thursday.

DNA test results helped convict Hayes of the February 1990 murder of 32-year-old Pamela Alberson at the Pompano Harness Track in Broward County, where they worked as grooms.

Hayes, now 31, was sentenced to die in the electric chair for strangling Alberson.

The state Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision, ordered a new trial, saying the DNA tests conducted on Hayes, the victim and a tank top found at the murder scene did not meet standards.

In this case, the testing method used by a lab technician did not meet national standards for admitting DNA evidence into trial.

Other errors and evidence during Hayes' trial, including hair from another individual found in the victim's hand, contributed to the court's decision.

Assistant Attorney General Richard Martell, who represents the state in death sentence appeals, said he expected the state to seek a rehearing before the Supreme Court.

In another ruling, the court vacated the death sentence of Billy Leon Kearse, 22, who was convicted of slaying Fort Pierce police Officer Danny Parrish in January 1991. The justices ordered a new penalty hearing for Kearse because of sentencing errors and mistakes in determining aggravating circumstances in the killing.

Parrish had stopped Kearse for driving the wrong way on a one-way street. When Kearse couldn't produce a license, Parrish tried to arrest him. Kearse grabbed the officer's gun and shot him 13 times.

The court also overturned the death sentence of a Melbourne man convicted of killing cab driver Clarence Bartee in January 1993, changing it to life in prison without possibility of parole for 25 years.

The justices reversed the sentence for Kevin Sinclair, 20. They said the trial court sentencing him did not give enough weight to mitigating circumstances, such as his cooperation with police, low intelligence and lack of any male role model.

_ Information from the Associated Press and the Orlando Sentinel was used in this report.

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