The Supreme Court will decide whether, years after his conviction, a defendant has a constitutional right to test genetic evidence found at the crime scene.
The justices, in an order Monday, accepted the appeal of prosecutors in Alaska. They asked the court to overturn a federal appeals court ruling in favor of William Osborne, who was convicted of rape, kidnapping and assault in an attack on a prostitute in 1993.
The woman was raped at gunpoint, beaten with an ax handle, shot in the head and left for dead in a snow bank near the Anchorage International Airport.
Osborne admitted his guilt under oath to the parole board in 2004. Another man also convicted in the attack has repeatedly identified Osborne as having participated in the crimes. The testing would be done on a condom and hairs found by investigators.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, based in San Francisco, said Osborne has a right to subject the evidence to advanced DNA testing that was not available at the time of his trial.
Forty-four states and the federal government have laws that give convicts access to DNA testing, but Alaska does not.
Osborne urged the court to reject the appeal, saying that because so many states have laws on the topic, it rarely arises in federal court.
Prosecutors argued that even if testing determines that the hairs and sperm are not Osborne's, other evidence introduced at his trial is sufficient to leave his conviction in place. That matter is not before the high court.
The case is District Attorney's Office v. Osborne, 08-6.