This summer, his prayers were answered. Shermaine Johnson was convicted after a computer scan matched his DNA with fluids left on Hope Hall's body.
The state of Virginia had tested Johnson's DNA when he was convicted of another crime, because Virginia tests all felons to see if their DNA matches evidence from unsolved crimes.
In fact, all 50 states now take DNA samples from convicted felons, so their profiles can be entered into the FBI's new DNA database. But there's a problem. Most states' labs simply don't have the resources to process all those samples anytime soon.
"There's a backlog of approximately half a million samples as we speak," Ferrara says. "There aren't enough highly qualified, trained DNA examiners to conduct all of the work that needs to be done."
And it isn't just the DNA tests on convicted felons that are languishing. Most states are also way behind on processing unidentified DNA from evidence left at crime scenes.
That delay cost 16-year-old Gregory Wilburn a year in a Philadelphia jail for a rape he didn't commit. When the DNA evidence was finally tested, just before his trial was about to begin, it showed he wasn't the rapist.
Defense attorney Barry Sheck, who is on the National Commission on DNA Evidence, says it's crucial to clear up these backlogs of untested DNA.
"We're not even close to what is really necessary to make this the effective crime fighting tool that it could be, which both exonerates the truly innocent and expeditiously catches the truly guilty," Sheck says.
But that will take a lot more money, a lot more equipment, and far more training than is currently available. In the meantime, what science has made possible is still far from reality in most of the nation's overworked crime labs.
Reported byJim Steweart