Prosecutors Join Innocence Project in Calls for Virginia Man’s Exoneration
The Innocence Project today filed a motion calling on a Virginia judge to free a man who has been 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 (left), 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 conviction, however, similar attacks continued to happen in the area. Eventually, another man, who became known as the “Black Ninja,” was convicted of committing several crimes bearing striking resemblance to the crimes for which Haynesworth was convicted. Haynesworth proclaimed his innocence from prison and asked for his case to be reopened, but his pleas went unheeded for more than two decades.
In 2005, after DNA testing on old evidence had 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 pointed to the “Black Ninja,” clearing Haynesworth. 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.
“I very much hope Mr. Haynesworth gets released very soon,” Henrico County Commonwealth’s Attorney Wade Kizer told the Washington Post. “I can’t imagine anything worse to happen than to be 18 years old, the police put handcuffs on you and you spend every day since 1984 knowing in your heart you didn’t do it.”
Learn more about Haynesworth’s case and other DNA exonerations in Virginia and nationwide here.