The Innocence Project has filed a motion today calling on a Virginia judge to free a man who has been in incarcerated nearly 27 years for a string of crimes evidence proves he did not commit.
Joining with the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project, Hogan Lovells US LLP, local prosecutors and the Virginia Attorney General, the Innocence Project is calling for the release of Thomas Haynesworth, who is in prison for three rapes that DNA and other evidence prove were committed by a serial rapist. Now, the decision on whether to release Haynesworth lies with the Commonwealth Appeals Court. Haynesworth was 18 and had no criminal record when he was charged with committing five rapes or attempted rapes in the Richmond area in 1984. Prosecutors dismissed one of the cases, but he was ultimately convicted of three of the crimes and acquitted of one. After his arrest, similar attacks continued to happen in the area by a man who began to refer to himself as the “Black Ninja” to his victims. Eventually, Leon Davis was arrested for 12 crimes that bore striking resemblance to the crimes for which Haynesworth was convicted. Davis was later convicted of at least three of these crimes and is serving multiple life terms. Despite maintaining his innocence from behind bars and requests to have his case reopened, Haynesworth’s pleas were ignored for more than two decades.
In 2005, after DNA testing on old evidence exonerated five Virginia men, then-Gov. Mark Warner ordered a review of all cases between 1973 and 1988 where there was evidence suitable for DNA testing. DNA tests were conducted in one of Haynesworth’s cases, and the results cleared him and pointed to Davis. The Innocence Project and Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project sought further testing, and DNA tests also cleared Haynesworth in the crime for which he was acquitted. Although there is no biological evidence available in Haynesworth’s other two convictions, two local prosecutors conducted a careful review of the evidence and now agree that Haynesworth is innocent of these as well.
Despite the fact that both prosecutors and the Attorney General agree that Haynesworth is innocent, he can only be freed by the Virginia Court of Appeals. He will likely remain incarcerated while the court considers his case.