Four Years Out: Tommy Doswell Moves Forward


Four years ago this week,

Thomas Doswell

walked out of Allegheny County jail a free man for the first time in more than 18 years. In 1986, he was convicted of rape after the victim misidentified him in a suggestive lineup. During his time in prison, Doswell was denied parole four times because he refused to admit to a crime he didn’t commit. In 2005, DNA testing conclusively proved that he could not have been the perpetrator.

After being released, Doswell was welcomed by his family, including his 80-year-old mother Olivia and two sons, who were only three and five years old when he initially went to jail. Doswell said that he was glad to be able to go home and thankful that justice had been served. Despite what he had to endure, Doswell said that was neither angry nor bitter about his wrongful incarceration. He told ABC 4 Pittsburgh, "I wanted to be, and I think I had a right to be, but I couldn't walk around like that for 20 years. It would have done me more harm than good.”

Later that year, the City of Pittsburgh named a day in Doswell’s honor. The day also promoted reforms to prevent wrongful convictions and provide compensation for the exonerated. At the ceremony, Doswell said that he believes he was wrongly imprisoned so that he could prevent others from going through what he did. He told ABC 4, "I questioned God many days, 'Why would you let this happen?' That it may never happen again.” Doswell also received a scholarship to the University of Pittsburgh and planned to continue his education. During his time in prison, he had already finished his Associate's degree, learned to speak Spanish and mastered seven musical instruments.

Doswell showcased his musical talent when he opened for famed guitarist and singer-songwriter B.B. King at Heinz Hall in Pittsburgh. He sang “I Need You Now,” a song about the power of God to usher a person through any tragedy, which he felt most greatly helped him to overcome his long incarceration. At end of his performance, Doswell received a standing ovation. Along with other exonerees, Doswell also performed with the rock band Pearl Jam as a guest musician during a May 2006 concert in Camden, New Jersey.

More recently, Doswell has sued the City of Pittsburgh and Detective Herman Wolf, who allegedly targeted him as a suspect because he had been acquitted in a prior rape case.  Among other injustices, Doswell contends the lineup put together by Detective Wolf was tainted because his mug shot was the only one marked with an “R,” which was how rape suspects’ photos were identified by Pittsburgh police at the time. Although U.S. District Judge Donetta Ambrose dismissed part of Doswell’s lawsuit last month, she refused to dismiss claims of violations of Doswell's rights to due process and against cruel and unusual punishment. Those claims are still pending.

Other Exoneration Anniversaries This Week:

Thursday: Larry Johnson, Missouri (Served 18 Years, Exonerated 7/30/2002)

Friday: Jerry Watkins, Indiana (Served 13.5 Years, Exonerated 7/31/2000)

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