The Daily Progress/Andrew Shurtleff
Marvin Lamont Anderson, the first person to be exonerated in Virginia after post-conviction DNA testing, speaks during the Virginia State Bar’s 39th aCriminal Law Seminar at the Doubletree Hotel.
By Tasha Kates
Published: February 14, 2009
By Tasha Kates
As an 18-year-old in Hanover County, Marvin Lamont Anderson was living his life one fire call at a time.
Anderson was in training to be a firefighter in the early 1980s, but it will be next month before he finally graduates from the Hanover County Fire Academy.
It is a dream fulfilled for Anderson, albeit 26 years late. Falsely convicted of raping a woman in 1982 and sentenced to 210 years behind bars, he spent 15 years in prison and five years on parole before he was exonerated by DNA evidence.
Anderson, who is the first Virginian and the 99th person nationwide to be exonerated by DNA, shared some of his insights Friday at the Virginia State Bar’s 39th Annual Criminal Law Seminar. The event took place at the Doubletree Hotel Charlottesville.
“Usually, most people ask how did I survive,” Anderson said. “My mother. God and my mother. Why I’m not crazy, that’s a different story.”
Anderson, who said Friday was the first time he had addressed a group of lawyers and judges, said he typically tells law students that they should go into law with an open heart and remember that their clients are human beings. He gave the established lawyers a different task.
“As lawyers and judges, you have the opportunity to change the system,” Anderson said, “but you have to have it in your heart and mind to correct the system.”
Since he was exonerated, Anderson said he has seen some positive changes in Virginia. He cited the changes in the state’s “21-day rule,” which used to prevent judges from considering evidence submitted to the court if 21 days had passed after sentencing. Defendants who maintain their innocence now may present strong evidence, such as DNA, after that deadline.
David P. Baugh, chairman of the state bar’s Criminal Law Section, said Anderson’s story is a good reminder that clients often face long-term consequences.
“It doesn’t make sense to talk law to lawyers,” Baugh said. “They need to see the end product.”
Anderson shared a few pieces of advice with the crowd, including his grandmother’s reminder that “trouble is easy to get in, but hard to get out.” He told the audience that if he could be falsely convicted of a crime, so could they.
A few months before he was arrested, Anderson’s fire engine went to refuel after responding to a house fire. The refueling station was near the jail.
Anderson told the audience that he looked at the jail and said to his colleague, “That is one place I’d never be.”
“Four months later, I was there.”