News 03.16.11

Argument Scheduled for Virginia Man Seeking Exoneration

The Virginia Court of Appeals scheduled a hearing on March 30 in the case of Virginia inmate Thomas Haynesworth, who is seeking exoneration in two 1984 rapes, reported the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Haynesworth has been incarcerated for nearly 27 years for three rapes that DNA and other evidence now show were committed by the notorious “Black Ninja” rapist.  Haynesworth was cleared of one of these rapes earlier by DNA evidence.  After an extensive investigation that included additional DNA testing, an exhaustive review of the evidence and polygraph tests, Richmond Commonwealth’s Attorney Michael Herring and Henrico Commonwealth’s Attorney Wade Kizer both called for Haynesworth’s exoneration and return to freedom in a writ seeking a declaration of innocence last month.  Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli also announced his support of the writ and asked the court to move as soon as possible.

The court of appeals has granted only one writ of actual innocence, in 2008, though it has yet to free anyone from prison.

Among other things, Haynesworth must show, “no rational trier of fact could have found proof beyond a reasonable doubt based upon the newly discovered evidence.”

His lawyers say that if the DNA evidence was available in 1984, no reasonable juror would have found him guilty.

Haynesworth’s petition argues, “If, as the Virginia legislature plainly contemplated, there is ever to be a case for which a writ of actual innocence is granted based on non-biological evidence, this is it.”

Innocence Project Co-founder Peter Neufeld will be appearing on Haynesworth’s behalf at the hearing.



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