Four months after a Washington, D.C. man was cleared by DNA when the hair analysis used to convict him was found to be wrong, his conviction was vacated Monday. Kevin Martin’s exoneration comes nearly one year after the Innocence Project and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) announced its partnership with the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) and the U.S. Department of Justice to review microscopic hair analysis cases.
Martin was convicted of the 1982 rape and murder of Ursula Brown based largely on the claim that his hair was found at the scene of the crime. He spent more than 26 years behind bars before he was paroled in 2009 and settled in San Francisco.
The Washington Post reported that after DNA testing pointed to Martin’s innocence earlier this year, U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen Jr. joined defense calls to overturn his conviction. Martin was joined in court by family when a Superior Court judge finally said the words he had been waiting to hear for nearly three decades.
“I am free at last. I am humbled. I never gave up,” Martin said, hugging and high-fiving his attorneys. Martin’s younger sister, his fiancee, his 6-year-old niece and other family members gathered around.
“I just want to live,” said Martin, 50.
Brown’s partially clothed body was discovered between a school yard and an apartment building in southwest D.C. She had been shot in the head, slashed and raped. Some of her belongings were found near the scene. A pair of sneakers, which the prosecutor said belonged to the victim, was also found. Those sneakers became key to the case; at trial, the prosecution said that the FBI found one of Martin’s pubic hairs on one of the shoes. Facing multiple life sentences if the case went to trial, Martin entered an Alford plea to manslaughter acknowledging that the prosecution had sufficient evidence to convict him, but he did not admit guilt.
Martin first sought DNA testing in 2001 but was told the evidence from his case had been lost. More than a decade later, boxes from the investigation turned up at a new facility and although the hair was not located, other genetic evidence was recovered for testing. According to prosecutors, the DNA matched William D. Davidson, who is serving a sentence of 65 years to life for multiple offenses including being the lookout during Brown’s attack.
Martin’s is the fifth case since 2009 in which FBI hair analysis has been found to be wrong. Donald Gates, Kirk Odom, Santae Tribble and Cleveland Wright were also wrongly convicted based on false FBI hair analysis.