Monterey, CA – Sixty-four year-old Jack Sagin is serving a life sentence for the murder of Paula Durocher. A jury convicted him of stabbing her to death in her Monterey home in July 1985. The Innocence Project at Santa Clara University has new evidence it hopes will exonerate him. Recent DNA tests on items from the crime scene and DNA from under the victim's fingernails show none of it belongs to Sagin. Rather the DNA belongs to five different men. "There were some highly suspicious characters in this case. There was an ex-boyfriend who fled the scene shortly after the crime who also failed a polygraph. There are a couple of other people we'd be interested in finding out if it's their DNA and that is what we think is needed to completely exonerate Mr. Sagin," says Innocence Project attorney Rhonda Donato.
She adds the organization took Sagin's case not just because of the new DNA evidence, but because his trial featured "flimsy and highly suspect testimony" against him. "He was convicted not by any physical evidence, not by much evidence at all. He was convicted based on snitch testimony from two different individuals who claim that they were in a jail cell with him and he told them that he committed this crime," Donato says.
Even with the support of the Innocence Project, Sagin still has a fight ahead. The Monterey County District Attorney's office stands by its prosecution. At the time of the murder, Sagin was a drug addict and had already been convicted of burglary and voluntary manslaughter.
Assistant District Attorney Berkley Brannon says Sagin went to Durocher's home to burglarize it, believing she wouldn't be there. When she appeared, he panicked and killed her. "Based on what we know right now I do not think that there is enough evidence from which to conclude that there's a reasonable doubt about whether Mr. Sagin committed this murder," says Brannon.
He adds a lack of Sagin's DNA on items from the crime scene does not prove he wasn't there. And there's no evidence the killer cut himself or otherwise left DNA at the scene. As for the "flimsy" witness testimony Donato describes, Brannon says it was anything but. "The statements that he made to people involve facts that only the real killer would have known. He made statements to people who were completely independent of one another and the statements were very detailed almost in the nature of a fingerprint," says Brannon.
The DA's office will now do its own DNA tests on the items from the crime scene then run the results through the national database to see if there's a match. After the results come back, this case could go in many different directions. Professor Rory Little of UC Hastings College of the Law says a judge could order a new trial or simply order Sagin released or uphold Sagin's conviction. "Prosecutors have an obligation to the public and to the victim to not concede just because there's a flaw found 20 years later. It really is true that our system has to place the burden on the defendant to, in effect, prove innocence once a jury has concluded they are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt," says Professor Little. It could be a couple months or longer before this case moves forward.
Since 1989, there have been 254 post-conviction DNA exonerations in the United States. The latest one came this week when DNA evidence exonerated an Ohio man convicted of rape. He had served 29 years of a life sentence.