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Faulty conviction results in questions over DNA collection.

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An earlier version of this story said a county court clerk was responsible for mistakenly filed the wrongful conviction of Mr. Tassie. The mistake was made by a Massena town court clerk.

By W.T. ECKERT

TIMES STAFF WRITER

CANTON — Everything rests in the DNA.

That will be the deciding factor for Jason D. Tassie, 30, a Massena man who is being linked to a 2009 burglary and sexual assault case through the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System.

Pretrial hearings in a case against Mr. Tassie began Wednesday in St. Lawrence County Court. Mr. Tassie and his attorney, Mary E. Rain, are arguing that the DNA used to link him to the felony crimes was obtained unlawfully.

The defense argued that the foundation of that DNA collection is faulty and suppressible, as it was collected on the premise that Mr. Tassie was convicted of a misdemeanor in 2006, when in fact he was convicted of disorderly conduct, a violation, a conviction that doesn’t allow for DNA collection.

A Massena town court clerk mistakenly filed the conviction with the state Division of Criminal Justice in Albany when the misdemeanor charge was reduced.

Mr. Tassie was a suspect in an investigation that began July 26, when a woman reported to Massena police that a man was standing outside her back patio door exposing his genitals.

In August, village police discovered that Mr. Tassie was convicted of second-degree menacing in 2006 and went to obtain DNA.

Ms. Rain said in court Thursday that the collection of her client’s DNA was fruit of the poisonous tree, a legal metaphor used to describe evidence that is obtained illegally.

Through that DNA sample, Mr. Tassie was charged in late September with felony counts of first-degree burglary and second-degree aggravated sexual assault in connection with an August 2009 assault of a Massena woman in her 80s living in the Beach Street area.

Police said last year that evidence collected at the time of the attack had been placed in the DNA database as a John Doe sample.

Since that time, additional collections of Mr. Tassie’s DNA have been made, all through search warrants allegedly connected to his DNA sample in the database, all allegedly connected to the wrongful conviction filed by a Massena town court clerk. Thosae samples were collected by Massena police Investigator Joseph W. Brown.

One of those samples was disposed of because Mr. Tassie was not given ample notification of the collection. The second, which was obtained through a search warrant issued by Massena Town Judge James M. Crandall, also was questionable, Ms. Rain said.

Mr. Crandall took the stand Thursday and was questioned about his decision to issue the warrant. The judge admitted to considering the DNA collected under the faulty conviction.

“This is all suppressible evidence,” Ms. Rain told the court.

The hearings will continue at 10 a.m. July 9, when Mr. Brown will take the stand.

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