New DNA evidence proves that Kevin Galik is innocent of the murder of 11-year-old Traci Rene Conrad, according to a petition filed in Kings County Superior Court seeking to have him freed from state prison.
The Northern California Innocence Project filed the writ of habeas corpus last year on behalf of Galik, 55, after paying a lab to run DNA tests of evidence collected from the 1996 murder.
The body of Rene, as she was known, was found in a kiln in the Galik family backyard in Hanford. A jury found Galik guilty of murder in the commission or attempted commission of lewd and lascivious acts on a child under 14.
He was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
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In 2013, male DNA was detected on vaginal swabs, but was not from Galik, according to the Innocence Project.
In response, the Kings County District Attorney’s Office said the DNA may have came from contaminated samples and does not exonerate Galik.
Visiting Superior Court Judge H. N. Papadakis has yet to rule on whether the claims of new exculpatory evidence are strong enough to warrant an evidentiary hearing, and more paperwork remains to be filed in the case.
Meanwhile, Rene’s family is having to deal with the case once again due to another habeas corpus petition by Galik — this is the fourth since he was convicted — her father Chris Conrad said from his home in Hanford.
“There’s no doubt the SOB murdered my daughter,” Conrad said.
Rene would be 30 if she were alive today.
She went missing on Feb. 25, 1996, after she told her father she was walking to the Galik home to play with Galik’s son. Her body was found March 21 in the kiln by Galik’s mother.
Rene had been bound and gagged with duct tape and wrapped in a bedsheet, according to investigators. The cause of death was listed as asphyxiation.
Both the Northern California Innocence Project and the Kings County District Attorney’s Office refused interview requests.
But attorney Kathy Hart of Fresno, who specializes in habeas petitions but is not involved in the Galik case, said groups like The Innocence Project are inundated with requests from prisoners and only take cases with strong DNA evidence.
“You have to bring in compelling evidence that casts doubt on the reliability of the evidence,” Hart said. “With DNA, you’ve got a much better chance of re-opening the case because you’ve got physical evidence.”
In the petition filed by attorney Kelley Fleming, the Northern California Innocence Project said vaginal swabs were taken during the autopsy and the state Department of Justice lab did not find sperm. No DNA testing took place at the time.
In 2012, the Innocence Project and the Kings County District Attorney’s Office agreed to test evidence from the case, according to court documents.
The duct tape found on Rene contained male DNA not belonging to Galik, but ultimately was traced to a Department of Justice lab staff member who inadvertently caused contamination, court papers said.
In support of Galik’s case, DNA expert Norah Rudin wrote, “Mr. Galik is not the source of male DNA recovered from the vaginal swabs. An unknown male contributed the profile detected in this sample.”
Another test showed the DNA does not belong to Galik’s half-brother Michael Galik, who also lived at the home, the petition said.
But deputy district attorney Louis Torch wrote, “the DNA on the vaginal swabs may also be contaminated” by someone in the lab or by materials from suppliers used in testing.
The “overwhelming evidence” against Galik, including the “web of deception” he created for an alibi, proves he’s guilty, the District Attorney’s Office states in its response.