Even the support of Virginia’s Attorney General isn’t enough for a man’s full exoneration despite DNA evidence proving his innocence.
Thomas Haynesworth was released from prison in March but is still waiting for a formal exoneration to complete his return to freedom.
The New York Times reported Sunday
on his continuing struggle to fully clear his name.
Haynesworth was convicted of three rapes that DNA and other evidence now show were committed by the notorious “Black Ninja” rapist and spent nearly three decades behind bars. Postconviction DNA testing pointed to another man who was already in prison for committing multiple rapes in the same neighborhoods.
After an extensive investigation that included DNA testing, an exhaustive review of the evidence and polygraph tests, Haynesworth now has the support of Virginia Attorney General Kenneth Cuccinelli and prosecutors from the jurisdictions where the rapes occurred. All agree that another man, Leon Davis, who was convicted of a series of rapes matching the same MO, is the real perpetrator. Davis, who referred to himself as the “Black Ninja,” is serving multiple life terms plus 100 years.
With no one arguing against exoneration, most judges would be expected to congratulate Mr. Haynesworth on his new life, perhaps with an apology as well, and send him into daylight and freedom. But in July, a three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals of Virginia said, in essence, “Not so fast.”
On Tuesday, Virginia’s full intermediate appeals court will review the same plea for Haynesworth’s exoneration. Mr. Cuccinelli said in an interview that he and his staff reviewed the evidence in the Haynesworth case in great detail. “It was a complex decision,” he said, “but it wasn’t a hard decision.” The thought of the wrongful conviction haunted him. “It’s hard to describe how painful it is to me that somebody would suffer what he has.”