News 12.04.08

His First Year of Freedom

Today marks the one-year anniversary of the day Chad Heins walked out of a Florida prison after spending 13 years behind bars for a murder he didn’t commit. After his exoneration, he returned to his home state of Wisconsin to live with his family.

The Heins family’s nightmare began on April 17, 1994. Chad had recently moved from Wisconsin to Florida and was living with his brother, Jeremy, and sister-in-law, Tina. Jeremy was in the Navy and on board his ship that night. Chad woke up on the couch at 5:45 a.m. to find three small fires burning in the house. He ran to Tina’s bedroom and found that she had been stabbed to death. Although Heins immediately called police, he quickly became a suspect in the case. Despite the lack of physical evidence, prosecutors developed a case against him. They theorized that Heins had made a sexual pass at his sister-in-law. When Tina Heins refused, they alleged, he broke into a jealous rage and repeatedly stabbed her.

Aside from his presence in the apartment, no evidence suggested that Chad Heins was Tina Heins' murderer. There was no blood on his clothes or under his fingernails, no scratches or scrapes on his body. Furthermore, DNA tests performed on pubic hairs in the victim's bed did not belong to Tina, Chad or Jeremy. However, at trial, two jailhouse snitches testified that Heins spontaneously confessed his guilt to them. Despite the lack of physical evidence, Heins was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison.

In 2001, Heins wrote to the Innocence Project, which took the case with help from the Innocence Project of Florida. Together with Heins’ pro bono attorney, the Innocence Project filed a motion for DNA testing on the skin cells collected at an autopsy from underneath the victim's fingernails. Additional testing was done on the pubic hairs and semen found at the crime scene. The test results proved that the skin cells, semen and hair all came from an unknown male. As Heins' innocence became clear, key evidence surfaced. During the original trial, prosecutors suppressed evidence that indicated a third person's fingerprints were found in the apartment. After the test results and the suppressed evidence were released, a Florida judge tossed Heins’ conviction and he was exonerated on December 4, 2007. He had been only 19 years old when Tina was murdered and today he is 34.

Learn more about

Heins’ case

, and read about

jailhouse informants as a cause of wrongful conviction

.


Other Exoneree Anniversaries:


Marcellius Bradford

, Illinois (Served 6.5 years, Exonerated 2001)


Dewey Davis

, West Virginia (Served 7 years, Exonerated 1995)


Larry Ollins

, Illinois (Served 13.5 years, Exonerated 2001)


Calvin Ollins

, Illinois (Served 13.5 years, Exonerated 2001)


Omar Saundars

, Illinois (Served 13.5 years, Exonerated 2001)

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