DNA Frees Maryland Inmate

A Baltimore man who has spent 20 years in prison for a rape that DNA tests show he did not commit is scheduled to walk free today after a hearing in Baltimore County Circuit Court, the first person to be exonerated under Maryland's new DNA law."

"Bernard Webster was 19 when a 47-year-old schoolteacher identified him as the man who broke into her Towson home and raped her. The DNA law, which took effect in 2001, allows judges to order DNA testing for people serving sentences for murder and rape when that testing could prove their innocence."

"Webster will be the third person in Maryland - the 115th nationwide - to have a conviction overturned by DNA evidence, according to the Innocence Project at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York City, a nonprofit legal clinic that seeks to identify and free people who have been wrongly convicted."

The victim had picked Webster out of a photo lineup as her attacker. The jury believed her, and disbelieved his alibi witnesses. In October, the results of DNA testing on the hospital slides recently found through diligent work by the Maryland Innocence Project showed the semen could not have come from Webster. Last week, the state's attorney's office got the results of its own testing, which also confirmed Webster's innocence.

The victim said yesterday that she was upset and did not want to talk to a reporter. The prosecutor said she still believes she identified the right man and is not convinced Webster is innocent.

Mistakes in identification are common when the victim is of one race and the suspect of another. According to the Innocence Project, mistaken eyewitness identfication occurs in 70% of their cases.

"Webster's conviction is the second to be overturned in Baltimore County because of DNA evidence. Death row inmate Kirk Bloodsworth was exonerated in 1993 after DNA testing showed he could not have committed the murder and rape he was convicted of in 1985."

Webster is homeless now and has no family. His lawyers are trying to figure out where he is going to sleep tonight. He has a 10th grade education and was taken from his biological mother at age 3. He grew up with a foster mother who died while he was in prison. He was refused because he wouldn't admit his guilt.

Webster began writing the Maryland public defender's office asking for help in 1983. Before the advent of DNA testing there was nothing they could do. He kept writing them, and in 2001, filed his own pro se motion for a DNA test. The judge granted it under the new statute and a public defender began trying to locate DNA in the then 19- year old crime. Her search led her to the pathology department at the Greater Baltimore Medical Center "where she located three slides of potential DNA evidence preserved from the July 6, 1982, sexual assault evaluation of the victim."

Webster is not entitled to any compensation from Maryland for the 20 years he spent in prison.

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