Tuesday, 27 July 2010

DNA used to contest Palmetto man's conviction in 1992 rape

DNA used to contest Palmetto man's conviction in 1992 rape

By RAY REYES The Tampa Tribune

Published: July 27, 2010

Updated: 9 min. ago

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Derrick Williams

TAMPA - An organization that used DNA evidence to free a Tampa man after 35 years in prison is working to exonerate a Palmetto man they said was wrongfully convicted of rape.

The Innocence Project of Florida held a news conference this morning at the Manatee County Courthouse in Bradenton to announce that DNA test results prove Derrick Williams did not rape a woman in 1992.

"It makes me extremely happy that it's finally coming to an end," Williams said in a statement through Innocence Project lawyers. "The results prove what I have said all along – I am innocent."

Seth Miller, the executive director of the Tallahassee-based nonprofit organization, said he has filed a motion today to vacate Williams' conviction.

"Hopefully, we can get it done as soon as possible," Miller said.

According to authorities:

The woman was kidnapped when she arrived home from work. The attacker forced her back into her car and drove to an orange grove, where she was raped in the back seat.

The man had removed a T-shirt he was wearing and told the woman to cover her face with it. After the attack, the man got out of the car to open the trunk.

The woman got in the driver's seat and drove away. The man's shirt, which became a key piece of evidence in the case, was still in the car.

A court-ordered test this year shows that skin cells and sweat on the inside collar of a shirt worn by the attacker does not match Williams' DNA. The technology was not available during Williams' trial in 1993.

During the investigation, the victim's description of her attacker was inconsistent, as was her account of how well she could see him, attorneys for the Innocence Project said.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement said a strand of hair found on the shirt did not come from Williams.

During the trial, the jury was not convinced by the FDLE report or six defense witnesses who said Williams was at a family barbecue when the rape occurred.

"After 17 years in prison for a crime he didn't commit, the state should do the right thing and release this innocent man immediately," said Melissa Montle, an attorney for the Innocence Project.

Prosecutors will fight efforts to free Williams, saying someone else's DNA on the shirt doesn't exonerate him. The victim had picked Williams out of a photo lineup as her attacker, prosecutors say.

Miller questioned the procedure of the lineup, saying investigators included two photos of Williams when the packet was presented to the victim.

"They put him in the photo pack twice," Miller said. "That is kind of suggestive."

Williams, 47, is serving a life sentence at Hardee Correctional Institution. Before convicted in the Manatee rape case, he was sentenced to a prison term of two years in 1989 on grand theft and burglary charges, state records show.

Innocence Project attorneys said Williams has been a model prisoner, earning a GED and working as a supervisor for a program that refurbished Florida Department of Corrections vehicles and fire trucks.

Jamie Bain, who was freed from prison after the Innocence Project took on his case, attended the news conference to show his support for Williams. More than 30 members of Williams' family were also there to ask for his release.

Bain, who lives in Tampa, was freed Dec. 17. Results showed his DNA did not match a sample found on the underwear of a 9-year-old rape victim.

Bain's wrongful imprisonment is the longest time served by any of the 255 people in the country exonerated by DNA evidence.

He was invited to Philadelphia this year to ring the Liberty Bell on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Bain was the guest of honor at a luncheon after the ceremony and received an award from city leaders.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report. Reporter Ray Reyes can be reached at (813) 259-7920.

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