Rooney demands retrial for murder of UVM student

The man jailed for the murder of UVM student Michelle Gardner-Quinn could have his life sentence reversed.Brian Rooney was sentenced by the Vermont Supreme Court in 2006 for the murder of the 21-year-old student. However, Rooney’s lawyer said that he deserves a new trial because of unreliable DNA samples used to convict him.Anna Saxman, Rooney’s defense lawyer, wants a new trial because she said that she felt his conviction was unfair.Rooney was sentenced to life in prison without parole for Gardner-Quinn’s murder and was convicted largely  on DNA evidence, William Sorrell, attorney general for the state of Vermont, said.The physical DNA evidence that was used to convict Rooney was semen, Sorrell said.”There was no other physical evidence tying Brian to the crime. No fibers, no hair, no bloodstains — nothing,” Saxman said. “There was nothing on her body, on him, in his car, on his clothes — nothing. However, he was the last person seen with her, but there was no other physical evidence other than the DNA.”Saxman said that she questions the reliability of the test results because the sample size used to convict Roony was 0.24 nanograms, an amount that she said was too small to prove to be reliable.”The state has agreed that they have to do in-house validation studies when their sample size is so small,” she said. “Here, they did them, they didn’t give them to us, and we believe that the studies did not show that the lab could consistently get good results with such a small sample.”But the state claims that Rooney’s attorney never asked for test results, Sorrell said.The lab also verified that the DNA was in fact Rooney’s, he said.”Here, we did get scientifically verified test results that showed this was Brian Rooney’s DNA,” he said.Questions about unreliable DNA samples are not the only thing behind the request for a new trial, Saxman said.”He should have been charged under a felony murder rather than under an aggravated murder,” she said.Because Rooney was convicted under an aggravated murder crime, the court issues a mandatory sentencing, Saxman said. Also, when someone is convicted under aggravated murder, the charge is always life sentence without parole, she said.”In a felony murder, the court has more discretion to order a lesser sentence,” she said.The sentencing for felony murders range from a minimum of 35 years to life without parole and the state has the power to decide what Rooney should be charged with, Sorrell said.The largest sentence in Vermont is life without parole because there is no death penalty, he said.However, given that the facts surrounding the crime were so horrific, the sentencing judge would have given Rooney life without parole even if he had been charged with a felony murder, Sorrell said.Rooney also has a history of criminal abusive behavior, particularly involving women, Sorrell said.Senior Nicholas Ulrich said that although he did not know Gardner-Quinn personally, he felt Rooney deserved a new trial.”It’s unfortunate that this hits so close to home, but the reality is Rooney deserves the benefits afforded to everyone in the judicial system.” Ulrich said. “You can’t just lock him up and throw away the key regardless of his crime.”Ulrich said that after reading up on the case, he doesn’t expect much to come from the retrial.This is not the first time Rooney asked for a new trial because of questions raised about DNA evidence. In 2008, Saxman confirmed that Rooney was denied by the state of Vermont that his conviction on an aggravated murder charge be overturned and that he be given a new trial.”It is standard that you file for a new trial after you are convicted,” she said. “It’s called making a motion for a new trial after a trial.”On March 17, an oral argument was held at the Vermont Law School in South Royalton to hear both sides of the issue, Sorrell said. However, no decisions were made, he said.Although Gardner-Quinn’s parents were not present for the argument, Sorrell said that he thinks they have been very satisfied with state investigations and prosecutions.”We are hopeful that the Supreme Court will agree with the state and that Rooney will continue to serve his sentence for the rest of his life,” he said.