DNA evidence points to another man in 1984 rape
FRANK GREEN AND REED WILLIAMS TIMES-DISPATCH STAFF WRITERS
Published: March 24, 2009
One of the Richmond area's most notorious rapists, Leon W. Davis, also known as the "Black Ninja," has been implicated in a 1984 rape for which another man was convicted.
According to court records, Davis' genetic profile was "consistent with" the DNA profile identified in semen from the scene of a Jan. 3, 1984, rape in Richmond. Thomas E. Haynesworth, a man Davis once described as a friend, was sent to prison for the crime.
Testing by the Virginia Department of Forensic Science did not find Haynesworth's DNA and Richmond authorities are now investigating. However, Richmond Commonwealth's Attorney Michael N. Herring would not comment yesterday on Davis.
Henrico County Commonwealth's Attorney Wade Kizer said police there are still searching through files to see if there might be something to test in connection with a Jan. 30, 1984, rape in Henrico for which Haynesworth was also convicted.
Reached last week by telephone at the Greensville Correctional Center, Haynesworth said of Davis, "I knew all along he was the man. I told my lawyer. I told [police]. He lived right down the street from me."
"I told them: 'This man fit the description.' But nobody ever listened to me," he complained. "Everybody said we looked alike. Only difference between me and him, he is taller and weighed more," said Haynesworth.
Davis, 45, is serving seven life terms for several sexual assaults in Richmond and Henrico, plus assault and robbery charges in two other cases.
Haynesworth, 43, was convicted of rape in Richmond and Henrico and an attempted abduction and robbery in Richmond. He is serving a total of 74 years. He was acquitted of charges that he sodomized a woman at knifepoint on Jan. 21, 1984.
The attacks for which Davis and Haynesworth were convicted occurred throughout 1984. It appears from news accounts at the time that all of the sexual assaults were committed by a man armed with a knife -- except the Jan. 30 rape in Henrico, one of the cases for which Haynesworth was convicted.
However, in that case, a trial transcript shows the victim testified that her attacker told her she was not his first victim and would not be his last. "He said he usually used a kitchen knife but he decided to use a gun this time," she testified.
In December 1984, after Haynesworth had been convicted of the Richmond and Henrico rapes, police warned area women that a man who sometimes called himself the "Black Ninja" was suspected of attacking 12 women in Richmond and Henrico starting that April. Haynesworth had been arrested that February.
According to Henrico Circuit Court records, when Davis was arrested on Dec. 19, 1984, and read his rights, Richmond police reported that he told them: "He discussed his old neighborhood and advised that Haynesworth was a friend of his."
Haynesworth was sentenced to a total of 64 years for his other crimes. Even if he is cleared of the Richmond rape, he must satisfy the terms of his other sentences, unless material is found to test in those cases and those tests also support innocence. He was convicted years before parole was abolished and has been eligible for discretionary parole since 1993.
The recent DNA testing was performed as part of the Virginia Department of Forensic Science's post-conviction project aimed at clearing people who may have been wrongly convicted from 1973 through 1988, before forensic DNA testing was widely available.
Kizer said it was his understanding that the department of forensic science had not been able to find any evidence to test from the Henrico rape.
However, Richmond authorities, in an effort to compel a DNA sample from Davis to verify the match in the state data bank, filed an affidavit Friday as part of a search warrant obtained in Buckingham County Circuit Court. Davis is an inmate at the Buckingham Correctional Center.
The affidavit notes that in DNA testing earlier this month, Haynesworth "was eliminated as a contributor of the DNA profiles that were found foreign to the victim" of the Richmond rape.
"The foreign DNA profiles were searched against the DNA data bank and were found to be consistent with . . . Leon W. Davis," wrote a Richmond detective in the affidavit.
Shawn Armbrust, with the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project, which is representing Haynesworth, was pleased to learn of the DNA implicating Davis.
"It seems that this evidence clearly proves that Mr. Haynesworth is innocent of the Richmond rape, and we hope the commonwealth's attorney is going to be working with us as quickly as possible to rectify that conviction," said Armbrust.