Crime & Courts

Lawyer: Prints may point to murderer

Four fingerprints that were found at the scene of a 1977 murder will be the focus of a hearing this summer for a Kansas prison inmate who hopes DNA from the prints will absolve him of the crime.

Merrill Andrews was convicted by a jury of first-degree murder in the death of Nola Babb, a 91-year-old retired businesswoman who was beaten in her home in the 3300 block of East 14th Street on Oct. 12, 1977.

Andrews, who has always maintained his innocence, is taking advantage of a state law that applies to those convicted of rape or murder. The law gives Andrews the right to ask for a hearing to determine whether evidence in his case includes biological material that could be tested for DNA.

During the trial, prosecutors based their case largely on the testimony of an informant who accused Andrews of being one of three men who broke into Babb's home. Friends of the informant, who has since died of natural causes, later

said he lied when implicating Andrews.

Andrews already has learned that all the courtroom evidence in his case was destroyed by court order in 1981. But the search for evidence did turn up four fingerprints that were found in a file kept by Wichita police.

Wichita lawyer Carl Maughan, who represents Andrews, said no one knows the identity of the person who left the prints. But he said it wasn't Andrews.

Maughan said his goal now is to find out whether the prints came from someone who had a legitimate reason to be inside Babb's house.

If the prints are matched to someone — possibly through a database of convicted criminals — they could quickly identify a new suspect in the case.

"If he's still alive, we can go talk to him and ask him, 'Why were you in the house?' " he said.

"We can't say for certain that the fingerprints would necessarily break the case wide open, but it could lead to new evidence."

Maughan said the prints have been examined by the Sedgwick County Forensic Science Center, and a report from the center said the chances of isolating DNA from them is small. The report also said the prints would likely be destroyed by the attempt.

The hearing is scheduled for July 9.

Andrews, 53, was paroled from his life sentence in 1999 after spending 22 years in prison. He adopted the name Kamanda Kamangeni, and built a reputation after his release as a mentor for at-risk youth in Wichita.

His freedom ended May 16, 2002, when he robbed the Credit Union of America at 212 S. Ridge Road. He was arrested after a long chase that ended when he crashed his speeding getaway car in downtown Wichita.

When he pleaded guilty to the robbery charge, Andrews told a judge he was having financial problems and was unable to find a full-time job. Andrews spent eight years in prison on the robbery charge before being released from federal custody in March. He was returned to the Kansas prison system on a parole violation.

Andrews is now being held at the Hutchinson Correctional Facility, and will be eligible for parole again on the state charges in 2013.

The Rev. Wanda McDaniels, who was president of the Wichita chapter of the NAACP from 2000 to 2002, said she worked closely with Andrews on his case and became convinced he was innocent.

"I'm almost positive that he didn't do it," she said.

She said she hopes the fingerprints will result in a reversal of his murder conviction.

"I'm serious as heart attack," she said. "This needs to be exposed."