Innocence Project Asks Virginia Appeals Court to Clear a Richmond Man Who Has Served Nearly 27 Years for Rapes He Didn’t Commit


Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli Personally Appeared Before the Court to Argue in Support of Thomas Haynesworth’s Claim of Innocence


Paul Cates, 212-364-5346,

Shawn Armbrust, 773-562-9020,

Alana Salzberg, 212-364-5983,

(Richmond, VA — September 27, 2011)  The Innocence Project, the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project and Hogan Lovells US LLP appeared before the Virginia Court of Appeals today to urge the court to exonerate a Richmond man who was incarcerated nearly 27 years for three rapes that DNA and other evidence now show were committed by the notorious “Black Ninja” rapist.  Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli personally appeared before the court to join in seeking a declaration of actual innocence for Thomas Haynesworth. Richmond Commonwealth’s Attorney Michael Herring and Henrico Commonwealth’s Attorney Wade Kizer also concur that Haynesworth is innocent.  Gov. Bob McDonnell intervened with the parole board to help secure Haynesworth’s release to parole. 

“The Attorney General and the Commonwealth Attorneys in Richmond and Henrico counties agree that Mr. Haynesworth is innocent of these crimes,” said Shawn Armbrust, director of the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project, who argued the case before the court today.  “With such unwavering support from the state, we are hopeful that we were able to convince the court today to correct this tragic miscarriage of justice.” 


The case was argued before a three member panel of the Court of Appeals on March 30, 2011.  In an unusual move, the panel ruled in July that it would not issue a decision but would instead send the case to be heard before the full Court of Appeals.  In court today, lawyers argued that DNA and other evidence proves that Haynesworth is innocent of a series of rapes or attempted rapes that occurred in a small area overlapping both the City of Richmond and Henrico County between January 3 and February 1, 1984.    

Haynesworth, an 18-year-old Richmond resident with no prior record, was arrested February 5, 1984, after one of the victims identified him.  The other four victims later picked his photo out of a photo array. Haynesworth was eventually convicted for crimes that occurred on January 3, 30 and February 1, 1984 and sentenced to 36 years in prison.  He was acquitted of a crime that occurred on January 21, and the charges were dropped in a January 27 incident. 

Rapes in the same general area continued throughout 1984 after Haynesworth was arrested, with more than 10 young white women being attacked by a young black male who began to refer to himself to his victims as the “Black Ninja.”  On December 19, police arrested Leon Davis, who was charged with about a dozen rapes that took place during the last nine months of 1984. Davis was eventually convicted of at least three of those crimes and sentenced to multiple life terms. 

After Gov. Mark Warner ordered a review of cases between 1973 and 1988, it was discovered that the semen recovered from the victim of Haynesworth’s January 3 rape conviction matched Davis, not Haynesworth.  With this knowledge, Haynesworth’s legal team reached out to the Richmond and Henrico Commonwealth’s Attorneys to review Haynesworth’s other convictions.  While there was no physical evidence for his two remaining convictions, DNA testing proved that Davis was also the perpetrator in the case for which he was acquitted.

The Richmond and Henrico Commonwealth’s Attorneys conducted an extensive investigation and eventually concluded that Davis, not Haynesworth, was responsible for the other two crimes.  These crimes matched the same modus operandi as the other rapes committed by Davis.  Haynesworth also passed polygraph tests about both of the cases that were administered in the presence of the respective Commonwealth’s Attorneys. 

“Mr. Haynesworth spent 27 years in prison for crimes he clearly didn’t commit. While he is out on parole now, he is not a free man.  He has been forced to register as a sex offender and abide by many restrictions,” said Olga Akselrod, a Staff Attorney with the Innocence Project, which is affiliated with Cardozo School of Law. “With so many people confident in his innocence, we are hopeful that Mr. Haynesworth will finally be cleared.” 

Haynesworth was released to parole thanks to intervention from Gov. Bob McDonnell.  Since his release, he has been working in the mail room of the Attorney General’s office. 

A timeline of the case is available here


Download the briefs before the Court of Appeals below:

Supplemental Brief

— Hogan Lovells, Innocence Project, Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project

Reply Brief

— Hogan Lovells, Innocence Project, Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project

Commonwealth Brief

— Attorney General Kenneth Cuccinelli)


The legal team includes Hogan Lovells US LLP partner Ellen Kennedy and associates Thomas Widor and Aaron George as well as Innocence Project Co-Director Peter Neufeld.       

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