Leo Waters, Six Years Free


Today marks the six-year anniversary of the day

Leo Waters

was exonerated in North Carolina after serving 21 years for a crime he didn’t commit.

In 1982, Waters was convicted of a rape and robbery based in part on an eyewitness identification.  On November 20, 2003, after DNA tests had proved he was not the perpetrator of the attack, the state dismissed all charges against Waters.  In 2005,

another man was charged with the rape based on the same DNA evidence


The conviction stemmed from a rape and robbery of a woman in March 1981 in Jacksonville, North Carolina. A lone perpetrator had come to her house claiming interest in a waterbed for sale. He threatened her with a gun, taped her hands behind her back and put tape over her eyes. He then raped her and fled the scene, stealing jewelry as he went.

The victim gave police a description and viewed a number of photo lineups. In April, she was hypnotized, in an apparent attempt to jog her memory of the crime. In August of the same year, she was shown a photograph of Waters, who she identified as the perpetrator. At Waters’ trial a lab analyst testified that sperm cells had been identified on swabs from the victim’s body, and that the sperm came from a person with a blood type matching that of Waters — and 35 percent of white men. Waters was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.

Waters applied for post-conviction DNA testing on his own, but it was not until attorney Mark Raynor took on the Waters case in February 2002 that testing was secured.  In 2003, Waters was excluded as a potential contributor of the sperm cells from the rape kit. His conviction was tossed and he was freed. In October 2003, the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation Laboratory also conducted DNA testing and again confirmed that Waters could not have been the rapist. On November 20, 2003, all charges against him were dropped, making his exoneration official.

In August 2005, North Carolina Gov. Michael Easley granted Waters a full pardon. In 2007, North Carolina lawmakers passed

a package of bills that reformed the state's criminal justice system based on the lessons learned from wrongful convictions

– particularly those based on eyewitness misidentification.

Other exoneration anniversaries this week:

Billy Wardell

, Illinois (Served 9.5 Years, Exonerated 11/16/97)

Donald Reynolds

, Illinois (Served 9.5 Years, Exonerated 11/16/97)

Donald Wayne Good

, Texas (Served 13.5 Years, Exonerated 11/17/04)

Ben Salazar

, Texas (Served 5 Years, Exonerated 11/20/97)

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