Charles Irvin Fain
Charles Irvin Fain was convicted and sentenced to death for the murder, rape, and kidnapping of a young girl. The crime occurred in Nampa, Idaho, in 1982. Fain has always maintained his innocence and DNA testing in 2001 revealed the truth of his claim.
The victim had been abducted while walking to school. Her body was discovered days later near a river. Police began questioning Fain, who had recently moved into the area. Along with dozens of others, Fain was asked to provide hair samples for comparison to the hairs found on the victim. After performing microscopic hair comparison, the FBI determined that hairs from the crime scene were similar to Fain’s.
At trial, the prosecution relied on unvalidated forensic evidence and the testimony of two jailhouse snitches. An FBI hair analyst testified that Fain’s hairs and the hairs from the crime scene were similar and shared an uncommon trait. Because there is not adequate empirical data on the frequency of various class characteristics in human hair, it is invalid for an analyst to characterize whether consistency is a rare or common event.
Another FBI forensic examiner was called upon to testify about his comparison between shoe prints from the crime and shoes collected from Fain. He said he found similarities: “To a — a shoe print examiner, this would indicate that the individual who walked with these shoes has the same walking gait.” Shoe print analysis of this type has never been validated. The two jailhouse informations testified that Fain had told them of his involvement in the crime and provided graphic details while they shared a cell with him. Fain was convicted and sentenced to death.
Mitochondrial DNA testing conducted on post-conviction appeal revealed that the hairs – pubic hairs found on the victim’s socks and underwear – were not Fain’s. Based on this new evidence, a judge ordered his release in August 2001. The prosecution decided not to try him again. Fain had served nearly 18 years on death row for a murder and rape he didn’t commit.
Charge: Murder, Rape, Kidnapping
Conviction: Murder, Rape, Kidnapping
Incident Date: 02/24/1982
Conviction Date: 11/04/1983
Exoneration Date: 08/23/2001
Accused Pleaded Guilty: No
Contributing Causes of Conviction: Informants, Unvalidated or Improper Forensic Science
Death Penalty Case: Yes
Race of Defendant: Caucasian
Race of Victim: Caucasian
Status: Exonerated by DNA
Alternative Perpetrator Identified: Yes
Type of Crime: Homicide-related, Sex Crimes
Forensic Science at Issue: Hair Analysis, Other