Eleven years ago today, Ben Salazar was pardoned by then-Governor George W. Bush, ending a five-year nightmare.
Salazar became a suspect in a 1991 Austin rape because he had a tattoo similar to one the victim saw on the perpetrator. She identified him in a photo book, and serological testing on semen collected from the victim’s body did not exclude Salazar as a suspect.
Salazar later said: "Before they took me to jail, they took me to their little office and tried to get me to confess to it. They wanted me to cop out to 20 years. I said, Not guilty, let's take this thing to trial."
He was convicted at trial and sentenced to 30 years in prison. Immediately after the conviction, Salazar's family held garage sales and benefit barbeques to raise money for DNA tests. Although Salazar's attorney was able to secure a court order to preserve evidence for DNA testing in 1994, the Department of Public Safety was unable to locate it. Eventually, in the fall of 1996, blood and semen samples were found in a freezer.
It took three rounds of DNA testing to obtain a profile that could identify the perpetrator, as DNA testing was not as advanced in the 1990s as it is today. The third round of tests determined that the semen from the rape kit did not match either the victim’s husband or Salazar, and he was finally exonerated after serving five years in prison for a rape he didn’t commit.
Salazar is featured, along with 36 other people in Texas cleared by DNA testing after serving a combined 525 years, in a Texas Monthly profile of wrongful convictions in the state.
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Other exoneration anniversaries this week:
Donald Wayne Good
, Texas (Served 13.5 Years, Exonerated 2004)
, Illinois (Served 10.5 Years, Exonerated 1994)