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SALT LAKE CITY — The state's high court upheld a 2009 conviction stemming from a sexual assault in 1996, finding that the prosecution fell within the statute of limitations.
Donald Eugene Younge Jr. appealed his conviction on two counts of aggravated sexual assault, a first-degree felony, and robbery, a second-degree felony, to the Utah Supreme Court. He argued that the state's prosecution fell outside the statute of limitations and violated his right to a speedy trial.
Prosecutors initially filed charges in the case against "John Doe," based on a DNA profile. Younge's name was added to the charge once he was identified. In a ruling handed down Friday, Associate Chief Justice Ronald Nehring found that the charges filed against Younge were valid.
Nehring, backed by the other four justices, also found Younge's speedy trial rights were not violated despite "an extraordinary delay," because the delay was beyond the state's control and did not prejudice the case.
The charges stemmed from the November 1996 attack and sexual assault of a University of Utah student who was accosted while walking home from school. A DNA profile was created following a rape examination and added to a DNA indexing system.
Four years later, as the evidence approached the statute of limitations, charges were filed against "John Doe, an unknown male," detailing the crime and identifying the defendant through the DNA evidence, the ruling states.
In 2002, Younge — who was in jail for investigation of murder in Illinois — was identified as a match for the DNA. Further blood tests confirmed the match and amended charges naming Younge were filed.
When the Illinois charges were dropped in 2009, the man was extradited to Utah. After an arraignment, Younge asserted his speedy trial rights and moved to have the case dismissed based on statute of limitations grounds, arguing that the charges filed in 2000 were invalid because they did not identify him by name.
"We disagree," Nehring wrote, stating that Utah laws don't require a name and that "a DNA profile 'is as close to an infallible measure of identity as science can presently obtain.' "
Though the high court found that the delay in the case was "extraordinary," they found that the state acted as quickly as possible under the circumstances of the case. They also found that the witness testimony Younge argued was lost due to the delay would not have led to an acquittal.
Younge, 47, who was sentenced to consecutive sentences of 15 years to life in prison for the sexual assault counts and one to 15 years for the robbery charge, was also charged in the 1999 murder of a U. theater student. The charges were later dismissed due to evidentiary issues.