Exonerated in 2010: How DNA and New Evidence Freed Five Wrongly Accused

December 10, 2010  |  

Although the justice system is designed to err on the side of caution, the system is not perfect. That means that for every load of court cases that produce correct verdicts, there is a case which deems an innocent person guilty.  It’s a high cost to pay for those who find their lives and futures victimized by bad lawyering, evidence tampering, false testimony or misled jurors.

Studies have reported that between 2.3 percent and 5 percent of all prisoners are innocent and The Innocence Project has made restoring the lives of the wrongly accused its business. The national litigation and public policy organization uses DNA testing to re-open the cases of prisoners who stand by their innocence. To date, they’ve had hundreds of successes. According to their website, there have been 261 post-conviction DNA exonerations in United States history.

We turned to the Innocence Project to discover some of the more notable exoneration cases of African Americans in 2010. The following 5 stories represent resilience on the part of the victims and the hope provided by organizations like The Innocence Project in strengthening the justice system.

Raymond Towler

Conviction: Rape, two counts felonious assault, two counts kidnapping
Year of Conviction: 1981
Exoneration Date: 5/5/10
Sentence Served: 28.5 Years. He walked into prison as a 24-year-old and walked out at the age of 52.
Contributing Causes: Eyewitness Mis-identification

On May 24, 1981, an 11-year-old girl and her 12-year-old male cousin were walking their bikes in a Cleveland park when they were lured into a wooded area by a man, who reportedly pulled a gun and assaulted the boy, forcing him to lie on the ground while he raped and sexually assaulted the young girl.  About three weeks after the crime, Raymond Towler was stopped by a park ranger near the same Cleveland park for running a stop sign in his car. The ranger noticed that Towler resembled the composite sketch of the rapist and apprehended him.

Several days later, both victims chose Towler from a photo array, although it took the boy nearly 10 minutes to choose his photo, and the girl nearly 15 minutes.  Two other witnesses who saw the perpetrator in the park that day also chose Towler’s photo from an array. Based on these identifications, Towler was charged with rape, assault and kidnapping.

The only physical evidence presented at Towler’s trial came from a forensic analyst who had microscopically examined a hair combed from the victim. He testified that the hair appeared to be a pubic hair and was a “negro” hair. The female victim was white.  The analyst  said, however, that the hair did not possess a sufficient number of unique individual characteristics to be linked to Towler.

Towler also had an alibi; he was home at the time of the crime. Several witnesses corroborated his alibi.

In May 2010, the female victim’s underwear was tested using a new technology called Y-STR. The results excluded Towler as the perpetrator and he was released days later.

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