News 05.11.09

DNA Testing Proves Man’s Innocence in 1984 Richmond Rape; Lawyers Seek Full Reinvestigations in Two Additional Convictions

(RICHMOND, VA; Monday, May 11, 2009) – DNA testing proves that Thomas Haynesworth did not commit a 1984 rape for which he was convicted in Richmond, attorneys said in a filing with the Virginia Supreme Court. The DNA testing that proves Haynesworth’s innocence also implicates the actual perpetrator, a serial rapist who was convicted of several similar crimes in the area.

While the DNA testing should exonerate Haynesworth in the January 3, 1984, Richmond rape, he was also convicted of two similar crimes that happened around the same time – and biological evidence in those cases may no longer exist for DNA testing. Haynesworth’s attorneys at the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project, Hogan & Hartson LLP and the Innocence Project are working with prosecutors in Richmond and Henrico County to ensure that both of the additional cases are fully reinvestigated. Of the three crimes for which Haynesworth was convicted, two were in Richmond (including the one for which DNA testing implicates the actual perpetrator) and one was in neighboring Henrico County.

“There are some indications that the same serial rapist may have committed all three rapes for which Thomas Haynesworth was convicted. A thorough deconstruction and reinvestigation of both of the remaining cases could identify the perpetrator in both of them.” said Shawn Armbrust, Executive Director of the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project, which is affiliated with American University’s Washington College of Law. “Mike Herring, the Commonwealth Attorney in Richmond, has been extremely cooperative in the case for which DNA testing was conducted. We are hopeful that both he and Henrico Commonwealth Attorney Wade Kizer will help reinvestigate both of these cases to be sure that justice is done.”

The DNA testing that proves Haynesworth’s innocence in one of the Richmond crimes was ordered as part of a wide-ranging review of old cases in Virginia ordered by former Governor Mark Warner. Several people in Virginia have been exonerated over the last few years after officials discovered that evidence in old cases still existed, even though it was supposed to be destroyed years ago.

The DNA profile from the January 3, 1984, Richmond rape implicated Leon Davis, a serial rapist known as the Black Ninja who was convicted of several rapes in Richmond and Henrico County around the same time as the crimes for which Haynesworth was convicted.

“We have handled similar cases around the country where DNA results overturning one conviction led cooperative prosecutors to fully reinvestigate other convictions and identify the actual perpetrator in multiple crimes,” said Peter Neufeld, Co-Director of the Innocence Project, which is affiliated with Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University. “We know Leon Davis committed one of the crimes for which Thomas Haynesworth was convicted, but we don’t know if he committed the other two. A thorough reinvestigation can provide answers to those questions.”

The Petition for Writ of Actual Innocence in the January 3, 1984, case was filed in state Supreme Court on Friday afternoon. The Virginia Attorney General’s office will respond to the writ, and the State Supreme Court will then decide whether to approve it, which would exonerate Haynesworth in that case. If the Virginia Supreme Court exonerates Haynesworth in the January 3, 1984, Richmond rape, he would remain in prison because he is still serving time for a similar rape on January 30, 1984, in Henrico County. He has already served his sentence for the third conviction, a crime in Richmond at around the same time as the others.

Leon Davis was suspected of committing at least a dozen rapes in Richmond and Henrico County in 1984. He is currently serving seven life sentences for those crimes. Davis and Haynesworth lived in the same neighborhood in 1984; although they had different heights and weights, they resembled each other and were sometimes mistaken for each other. At Haynesworth’s trial, the victim identified him as her attacker even though she said she could not see the perpetrator’s face.

Nationwide, 238 people have been exonerated through post-conviction DNA testing. Eleven of those cases were in Virginia. Eyewitness misidentification was a factor in 75% of all wrongful convictions overturned with DNA testing, and the true perpetrators have been identified in more than 40% of DNA exoneration cases.

In addition to Armbrust and Neufeld, Olga Akselrod at the Innocence Project is working on the case. Thomas Widor and Ellen Kennedy at the Washington, DC, law firm of Hogan & Hartson are co-counsel on the case.

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