A report in today’s Houston Chronicle offers more details on what went wrong in the case of Ricardo Rachell, a 51-year-old Houston man who was freed last week after serving six years behind bars for a rape he didn’t commit. It appears that police investigators, defense attorneys and prosecutors all missed signs that another man committed the attack, and missed an opportunity to test DNA evidence from the case that could have proved Rachell’s innocence before trial and implicated the real perpetrator – possibly preventing future attacks on children.
Rachell was arrested in October 2002 for allegedly luring an eight-year-old boy into an abandoned house and sexually assaulting him. But in the months after his arrest, two more children were assaulted in the same area. Rachell sent the news story of these continuing assaults to his defense attorney, who decided not to investigate. The same police officers arrested Rachell also investigated the next two attacks – and they didn’t draw a connection.
Business owners plastered their stores with police sketches of a suspect. Apartment managers warned their tenants of the predator at hand. FBI officials and U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee held community meetings. And at least one news story quoted HPD officer Lisa Clemons, the same officer who arrested Rachell, on the details of the attacks. She also has declined comment.
Rachell sent a copy of that story to his trial attorney, Ron Hayes, who acknowledges he received it in December 2002 — six months before Rachell was to face a jury — but decided not to investigate.
"I received from Mr. Rachell the newspaper article about other sexual assaults," Hayes said in an affidavit provided for one of Rachell's appeals. "Since there were very few similarities and connection between the sexual assaults and the sexual assault Mr. Rachell was accused of committing, I did not believe that this information from Mr. Rachell merited much investigation."
Read the full story here
. (Houston Chronicle, 12/18/08)
And Rachell told the Houston Chronicle on Sunday that he is struggling to adjust to life outside of prison.
"It is not easy, but I handle it. I fend for myself," Rachell said in an exclusive interview Saturday with the Houston Chronicle, less than 24 hours after walking out of the Harris County jail following a rare exoneration.
His first night of freedom didn't bring any drinking, partying, star gazing or even a long walk. Instead, Rachell stayed inside with Robert Trimmer, his 82-year-old stepfather, and spent much of the night watching television.
"I didn't have anywhere else to go," Rachell said as he sat on a couch in Trimmer's living room in south Houston, where he likes the curtains closed because he fears the streets. He also worries those who wrongfully put him away will again try to snatch him up.
. (Houston Chronicle, 12/14/08)