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DNA test results from 1999 don't match 2 on Death Row

LOUISVILLE — DNA tests from a hair found at the scene of a 1985 double murder in Eastern Kentucky does not match either of the men on Death Row for the crime nor the victims in the case.

The results were returned in 1999, but defense attorneys for Roger Dale Epperson and Benny Lee Hodge didn't get them until September. The results and how late the defense received them are now at the center of efforts by Epperson and Hodge to overturn their death sentences and convictions.

Prosecutors have argued that they were unaware of the test results, so they couldn't have turned them over in 1999.

Epperson and Hodge are awaiting execution for the June 1985 robbery and murders of Edwin and Bessie Morris in their Gray Hawk home in Jackson County. A third man, Donald Wayne Bartley, was sentenced to life in prison in a plea agreement in exchange for his testimony against the other two. The DNA test results on the hair don't match Bartley, either.

"The results illustrate that it was not Hodge, Epperson and Bartley that committed this crime," said Assistant Public Advocate David Harshaw, who represents Hodge.

Epperson's attorney, David Barron, declined to comment about the test results. But in a motion, Barron said the results should clear his client.

"Roger Epperson may be an innocent man on Death Row," Barron said in the motion.

Clay County Commonwealth's Attorney Gary Gregory did not immediately return a phone message left Tuesday.

Special Judge William R. Harris has also granted DNA testing on other evidence in the case. Harris has scheduled a hearing in March on the DNA results and another hearing in June on the merits of multiple claims of ineffective assistance of counsel.

Epperson and Hodge were sentenced to death in November 1996 for attacking and killing the couple in the Gray Hawk community 11 years earlier.

Epperson and Hodge also were sentenced to death for the murder of Tammy Acker during a robbery of her father's home in Fleming-Neon Letcher County in August 1985, about two months after the Morris murders. Prosecutors have said they stole nearly $2 million from the Acker home.