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Judge rules against Scott Doll in latest appeal of 2010 murder conviction

By Howard B. Owens

The latest attempt by Scott F. Doll to get his 2010 conviction for murder overturned has failed to persuade another judge and his appeal based on what his attorney claimed was new evidence has been denied.

Attorney Michael S. Deal, from the Legal Aid Bureau of Buffalo, filed a motion to overturn the conviction earlier this year. A hearing on his motion was heard by Judge Sanford A. Church on March 10.

Deal argued that he had uncovered new evidence related to the failure of the Monroe County Medical Examiner's Office to collect fingernail scrapings from Doll's victim, Joseph Benaquist, and new DNA tests of people who might have had access to the murder scene should lead to Doll's conviction being overturned and a new trial granted.

Church ruled that the defendant did not present a factual assertion that the two pieces of "newly discovered evidence" could not have been available for the 2010 trial. 

"As discussed below, a sound defense trial strategy could have been to avoid further scientific testing and emphasizing the prosecution's failure to test some evidence," Church wrote. "The defense was aware, for example, of the drops of blood on the victim's boot before trial and that it had not be subjected to DNA profiling. All they had to do was ask that it be tested."

The defense could have also asked that fingernail scrapings be tested.  If the defense had made the request, the attorneys would have learned that clippings and scrapings had not been collected.

As for a bit of third-party DNA found on the victim's boot, that evidence could have been available at trial, Sanford said. There were photographs available to the defense that showed a possible bloodstain on the victim's boot.  The defense, he said, could have insisted that the bloodstain be tested.

Prior court rulings have found that for evidence to be considered "new" in an appeal, it must be evidence that could not have been discovered by the defense through diligence. 

It's also not readily apparent that the DNA comparisons would change the outcome of the trial, Sanford ruled.

For these reasons, Doll has failed to prove that his "new evidence" could not have been discovered before trial.

Church, an Orleans County judge, heard the appeal because Genesee County Court Judge Melissa Lightcap Cianfrini formerly worked for the Genesee County District Attorney's Office and had been involved in prior appeals, so she had a conflict of interest.

Doll was sentenced to 15 years to life for the 2009 murder of Benaquist. He has consistently maintained his innocence since his arrest.

On the night of Feb. 16, 2009, Doll was found walking in Pembroke in blood-soaked clothing by a deputy and questioned.  Due to the suspicious nature of his appearance and a van he identified himself as operating earlier in the evening, he was questioned by investigators who feared there was a seriously hurt or dead person in the area.  Those emergency circumstances allowed investigators wide leeway in questioning Doll and searching for a possible victim. Several hours later, Benaquist's badly beaten body was found in the driveway of his home in Pembroke.

Benaquist and Doll, a prison guard, had been partners in a used car business.

For all of The Batavian's prior coverage of Scott Doll, click here.

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