David Vasquez was arrested for the murder of a woman who was killed in her Arlington County, Virginia home. She was sexually assaulted and then hung. Vasquez, who is borderline mentally impaired, had reportedly confessed to the crime, supplying details not released to the public.
He pled guilty to the crime and became one of several people incarcerated that were exonerated after being convicted on the basis of “dream statements” that were used as confessions. Additionally, Vasquez could not provide an alibi and was placed near the scene of the crime by two eyewitnesses. A forensic analyst also testified that pubic hairs from the crime scene were consistent with those of Vasquez. Because there is not adequate empirical data on the frequency of various class characteristics in human hair, an analyst’s assertion that hairs are consistent is inherently prejudicial and lacks probative value.
Three laboratories performed DNA testing in this case, but they tested the evidence collected from other crimes where the perpetrator used the same methods used in the murder for which Vasquez was convicted. Testing on the hair in Vasquez’s case proved inconclusive. Testing in these other cases led to Timothy Spencer, who was subsequently convicted and executed for two other rape/murders. An FBI report found that the murder in Vasquez’s case was perpetrated by the same person who was responsible for the other murders, a person who was not mentally impaired.
The prosecution joined with defense attorneys to secure a pardon for Vasquez, which was granted in 1989. Spencer was executed in 1994.
Charge: Second-degree Homicide, Burglary
Conviction: Second-degree Homicide, Burglary
Sentence: 35 years
Incident Date: 01/23/1984
Conviction Date: 02/03/1985
Exoneration Date: 01/04/1989
Accused Pleaded Guilty: No, Yes
Contributing Causes of Conviction: Eyewitness Misidentification, False Confessions or Admissions, Unvalidated or Improper Forensic Science
Death Penalty Case: No
Race of Exoneree: Latinx
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