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State v. Cookson

Supreme Court of Maine

February 26, 2019

STATE OF MAINE
v.
JEFFREY A. COOKSON

          Argued: February 4, 2019

          Richard L. Hartley, Esq. (orally), Law Office of Richard L. Hartley, P.C., Bangor, for appellant Jeffrey A. Cookson

          Janet T. Mills, Attorney General, and Donald W. Macomber, Asst. Atty. Gen. (orally), Office of the Attorney General, Augusta, for appellee State of Maine

          Penobscot County Superior Court docket number CR-2000-11 For Clerk Reference Only

          Panel: SAUFLEY, C.J., and ALEXANDER, GORMAN, JABAR, HJELM, and CLIFFORD, JJ.

          JABAR, J.

         [¶1] Jeffrey A. Cookson appeals from a judgment entered by the Superior Court (Penobscot County, Cole, C.J.) denying his motion for a new trial, which he brought pursuant to Maine's post-conviction DNA analysis statute, see 15 M.R.S. §§2136-2138(2018).

         [¶2] The focal point of this appeal is one of the "prerequisites" for obtaining a new trial based on newly discovered DNA evidence: "a showing that only the perpetrator of the crime could be the source of the DNA evidence" See State v. Reese, 2013 ME 10, ¶¶ 19, 23, 60 A.3d 1277. Because we discern no error in the court's denial of Cookson's motion for a new trial, we affirm the judgment.

         I. BACKGROUND

         [¶3] In December 2001, Cookson was convicted of two counts of murder following a jury trial. Immediately after the jury returned its verdict, Cookson's counsel informed the court and the State that David Vantol had recently confessed to committing the murders for which Cookson had just been found guilty. Cookson has since filed multiple post-judgment motions; this appeal marks the fourth time that Cookson has appealed a post-judgment court order. See generally Cookson v. State, 2014 ME 24, 86 A.3d 1186; Cookson v. State, 2011 ME 53, 17 A.3d 1208; State v. Cookson, 2003 ME 136, 837 A.2d 101.

         [¶4] The present appeal concerns Cookson's motion for a new trial based on mitochondrial DNA testing that was performed in April 2016 at his request. The test compared the DNA from a single hair that was recovered from the palm of one of the victim's hands to the DNA of Cookson and Vantol. The results of the DNA analysis excluded Cookson as the source of the hair, and were inconclusive as to Vantol.

         [¶5] Based on the DNA results, Cookson moved for a new trial pursuant to 15 M.R.S. § 2138. Following an evidentiary hearing, the parties entered stipulations into the record and submitted written arguments. The court then denied Cookson's motion for a new trial. Cookson timely appeals. See 15 M.R.S. § 2138(11); M.R. App. P. 2B(b)(1).

         II. DISCUSSION

         [¶6] "To obtain a new trial based on newly discovered DNA evidence obtained through a post[-]judgment motion for DNA analysis, a defendant must establish by clear and convincing evidence one of three statutorily identified reasons for the granting of a new trial."[1]Reese,2013 ME 10, ¶ 23, 60 A.3d 1277. Maine's post-conviction DNA analysis statute ...


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