Out of Prison, Fighting for Exoneration


Last week, Virginian Thomas Haynesworth was paroled after 27 years behind bars at the recommendation of Gov. Bob McDonnell.

This week, his attorneys continue to fight for his exoneration.

DNA testing and other evidence proves that Haynesworth was wrongfully convicted of series of rapes in1984 in Richmond.  The DNA matches Leon Davis, a serial rapist who was convicted of several similar crimes matching the same MO.

At a hearing on Wednesday, Haynesworth appeared before a three-judge panel of the Virginia Court of Appeals in Richmond.  His lawyers and a representative of the Virginia Attorney General’s office responded to questions from the panel.

Haynesworth’s attorneys must prove that had the new evidence been known in 1984, “no rational trier of fact could have found proof beyond a reasonable doubt based upon the newly discovered evidence.”

Peter Neufeld, a co-founder of the Innocence Project and one of Haynesworth’s lawyers, said if a juror voted for conviction, “I don’t believe they’d be rational.”

Neufeld also said the prosecutor would tell the victim she was mistaken, not that she was unbelievable. DNA testing has proved dozens of rape victims wrong in the identification of their attackers.

Haynesworth’s lawyers, prosecutors in Richmond and Henrico County and Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli believe the five attacks for which Haynesworth was charged were committed by Davis. DNA testing proved that two victims misidentified Haynesworth for Davis.   

Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project Executive Director Shawn Armbrust said it could be six to eight weeks before the court issues a ruling.

In 2008, the Court of Appeals granted its only writ of actual innocence, but it has yet to free anyone from prison.

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Post-conviction DNA has already exonerated 12 men in Virginia; find out how many men and women have been exonerated in

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