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New DNA evidence could clear man convicted in 1997 rape, murder of Pasco 9-year-old

Attorneys for Gary Cannon say he's been falsely "labeled a child molester and murderer" for more than 20 years.
Credit: Florida Dept. of Corrections

CLEARWATER, Fla. — After being sentenced to life in prison for the 1997 rape and murder of a Pasco County 9-year-old, new DNA evidence could give Gary Cannon his life back.

According to attorneys from the Sixth Judicial Circuit's Public Defenders Office, an untested rape kit excludes Canon "as the source of DNA" and undermines his prosecution.

The Public Defender's Office adds testing showed Cannon's co-defendant, Gary Cochran was also excluded as a source of the DNA profile.

Cannon was sentenced to life in 2005 after a Supreme Court ruling barring the execution of teens saved him from facing the death penalty. He was 17 at the time.

For more than 20 years, attorneys say Cannon has sat in his prison cell, falsely labeled as a responsible party in the girl's death -- now they are looking to change that.

“This is why we continue to fight for justice,” said Public Defender Sara Mollo. “Imagine a teenager sitting in prison, labeled a child molester and murderer, for the rest of his life for a crime he didn’t commit. I am grateful for PD6’s commitment and due diligence on the defendant’s case. It shows that we are committed to defending our clients and providing legal representation they truly deserve.”

A motion to vacate Cannon's conviction was presented in court Tuesday in an effort to get him a new trial based on the newly discovered DNA evidence.

Credit: 10 Tampa Bay

As for why this DNA hasn't come to light prior to 2021? The Public Defender's Office says it's all chalked up to knowing better now than in the early 2000s.

In the years since Cannon's conviction, the National Academy of Science brought forward new forensic evidence reports and the Florida Innocence Commission highlighted the existence of wrongful convictions.

"We know better now. What may have been considered admissible or reliable then, is not today," Mollo said.

Giving time for the prosection to report back, the judge presiding over the case will decide whether to proceed on Aug. 30. If the case moves forward, the court will look to begin bringing in witnesses in September.