Eight Years of Freedom


Eight years ago this week, Arvin McGee was exonerated through DNA testing after spending more than 12 years in Oklahoma prisons for a crime he didn’t commit. After his release, he would fight the city of Tulsa in court for years before settling a civil suit. One city councilman would later write that his case was “flubbed from beginning to end” at an enormous cost to McGee and to taxpayers.

McGee was charged with the 1987 rape despite inconsistencies in the evidence against him. The victim’s description of the perpetrator differed significantly from McGee’s appearance, and she picked a different man in the first photographic lineup. At a second lineup almost four months after the crime, she took almost 15 minutes to identify McGee.

Significantly, McGee was suffering from an injury that rendered him physically unable to commit the crime. The victim had been carried over the perpetrator’s shoulder, but McGee was awaiting surgery for a hernia operation, and it was extremely unlikely that he would have been able to carry the victim. Eyewitness misidentification is the single most common cause of wrongful convictions.

Despite these issues, McGee was charged with the crime, based mainly on the second identification. He would be tried three times before he was ultimately convicted of rape, kidnapping and forcible sodomy and sentenced to over 200 years in prison. The first trial ended in a mistrial, and the second in a hung jury.

McGee spent almost 13 years in prison before the Oklahoma Indigent Defense System took his case and arranged for DNA testing on the remaining biological evidence. These tests excluded McGee. A second round of testing ordered by Tulsa County prosecutors on the rape kit recovered from the victim produced the same results, which implicated another Oklahoma prisoner. The other man was charged with the crime, but his case was dismissed because the statute of limitations had expired.

Due to the conclusive evidence of McGee’s innocence, Tulsa prosecutors joined with his attorneys in seeking his release. McGee, who was 27 years old when he was wrongfully convicted, was 39 on the day he was freed in February 2002.

Read more about

McGee’s case

and the role of

eyewitness misidentification

in causing wrongful convictions.

Other Exoneree Anniversaries This Week:

Charles Chatman

, Texas (Served 26.5 years, Exonerated: 2/26/08)

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