DNA Exonerates LA Inmate Henry James: Freed After 30 Years

Henry James was convicted of aggravated rape in Louisiana in 1982 and sentenced to life without parole. Today, the court vacated his conviction after DNA testing proved he was not the perpetrator. He served 1 month less than 30 years, the longest time served by any DNA exoneree in Louisiana.

James was convicted based in large part on a faulty cross-racial eyewitness identification. He had three alibi witnesses at trial: his father, his boss and a neighbor. The jury convicted anyway.

His stepfather confirmed that he had been asleep at the time of the crime. (James’ mother had passed away, and he lived with his stepfather. James slept in the same bed as his stepfather.) Another witness testified that he saw the defendant walking to work and gave him a ride the rest of the way, and his boss testified that he arrived at work at 6:48 AM. However, James’ lawyer failed to inform the jury about the serological testing that excluded James as a suspect.

Although DNA had been collected at the crime scene, it wasn't tested at the time of trial. By the time James was able to get the Innocence Project on board, it had been lost. Last year, a lab worker came across the slide while looking for DNA evidence in another case. [More...]

After exhausting his appeals, James reached out to the Innocence Project, which sought to do DNA testing of the evidence recovered in the rape kit. Although officials at the Jefferson Parish Crime Laboratory were cooperative, the initial search for the evidence proved fruitless. The legal team eventually filed a motion on James’ behalf seeking testing on the evidence, but another search on February 18, 2010 also proved fruitless. On May 3, 2010, Milton Dureau, who worked for the lab, was looking for evidence in a different case when he stumbled upon a slide from James’ case. Fortunately, he remembered the case number from his earlier search. The evidence was sent to a lab, which did STR DNA testing on the slide. The testing, which was completed on September 26, 2011, excluded James as the perpetrator in the rape.

The Jefferson Parrish District Attorney and other authorities were cooperative with the Innocence Project's search for DNA and the DA moved to dismiss the case when the results came in excluding James. The documents in the case, including the DNA test results, are here.

James is represented by the Innocence Project, Innocence Project New Orleans and Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP.

The Innocence Project says 75% of all DNA exonerations have involved faulty eyewitness identification.

When the wrong person is convicted, the real perpertrator remains free to commit more crimes. DNA testing and proper police procedures are a win for all.

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    History of DNA analysis: (5.00 / 1) (#3)
    by oculus on Fri Oct 21, 2011 at 09:17:37 PM EST

    Yes, his initial defense attorney should have requested serology testing, but couldn't have requested DNA analysis at time of original trial.

    In their book, "Actual Innocence" (5.00 / 1) (#4)
    by Peter G on Fri Oct 21, 2011 at 09:59:45 PM EST
    the founders of the Innocence Project (Peter Neufeld and Barry Scheck) say that 32% of the first 75 exonerations, in their opinion, involved ineffective assistance of counsel.  In other words, in 2/3 of the wrongful convictions, the conduct of defense counsel was not a contributing cause, while in about a third of the cases, it was.  (2003 ed., p. 365).  The rate of police misconduct in these exoneration cases was 50%, and the rate of prosecutorial misconduct was 45%.  Defective or fraudulent forensic science was involved in 34%. There were false confessions in 27% of the cases. (Obviously, many wrongful convictions had multiple factors at work.) No contributing cause comes close to eyewitness misidentification, at more than 75%.

    Its been said, (5.00 / 1) (#7)
    by NYShooter on Sat Oct 22, 2011 at 02:15:05 AM EST
    and I'm sure you know, that

    "...society is judged by how it treats it's least fortunate..."

    And, who could be less fortunate than those who have been wrongly convicted?

    What a legacy our Constitutional scholar President could have by calling for a Manhattan like project to re-examine all those held in captivity today under circumstances that an expert panel deemed worthy of a second look.

    Forget the political fallout. Just think of how this "soul cleansing" would make us feel as a society, not to mention the message it would send world wide.

    I know it's a dream, but maybe OWS could include it in one of their "demands."



    A Texas Two Step (none / 0) (#9)
    by Rojas on Sat Oct 22, 2011 at 02:15:18 PM EST
    Not trying to change the subject and I hope you don't consider this off topic Jeralyn, but those who have interest in these cases might be interested in a little showdown going on over another DNA exoneration case by the Innocence Project.

    Mr. Davis' motion called him an "innocent bystander" in the "open warfare" between Mr. Bradley and Innocence Project co-founder Barry Scheck.

    Grits has coverage

    The roaches run from the light.


    denominator? (none / 0) (#10)
    by diogenes on Sat Oct 22, 2011 at 07:24:14 PM EST
    How many convictions were generated in the jurisdictions/time frames of those seventy-five cases to end up with seventy-five innocents being convicted due to defense/prosecutorial/police misconduct or incompetence?  Seventy-five out of a thousand is a problem.  Seventy-five out of a million, not so much.

    Numerator (5.00 / 1) (#13)
    by markw on Sat Oct 22, 2011 at 11:30:35 PM EST
    If you're going to ponder the denominator, you'd better also think about the numerator. What makes you think there aren't many more cases like this that never seevthevlight of day?

    I heard there was an opening in the civil rights (5.00 / 0) (#19)
    by Rojas on Mon Oct 24, 2011 at 09:46:50 AM EST
    division in Holder's DOJ.
    Are you rehersing your lines?

    Better hope that (none / 0) (#12)
    by Zorba on Sat Oct 22, 2011 at 08:15:58 PM EST
    you're never one of those seventy-five, diogenes.  I'm sure that those seventy-five would feel a bit differently than you do about how much of a problem it is.

    We should (none / 0) (#2)
    by jimakaPPJ on Fri Oct 21, 2011 at 08:58:06 PM EST
    just start doing automatic DNA testing on all convictions where it is now available.

    Just couldn't resist a nasty (none / 0) (#6)
    by jimakaPPJ on Fri Oct 21, 2011 at 11:06:08 PM EST
    snark, eh??

    Why you must be in politics.

    And thanks for showing us who you are. Again.

    BTW - You need to learn to read before snarking. My comment has nothing to do with current cases at trial or under investiagtion.

    just start doing automatic DNA testing on all convictions where it is now available.

    It's a matter of Priority (none / 0) (#17)
    by Rojas on Sun Oct 23, 2011 at 12:33:44 PM EST
    This is why I watched the Kasey Anthony trail (none / 0) (#8)
    by loveed on Sat Oct 22, 2011 at 06:51:25 AM EST
     Prosecutor are to search for the truth, not win.
    This is lost on Americans. This is another right, that we have given up freely.
     The facts show, there was no need for DNA.

    um, no. (none / 0) (#11)
    by cpinva on Sat Oct 22, 2011 at 07:53:18 PM EST
    a prosecutor's job is to win a conviction, not search for the truth. the search for the truth should occur well before any arrest, indictment or trial takes place. once the prosecutor decides to proceed to trial, they have arrived at the truth, as far as they're concerned.

    no a prosecutor's job is not (5.00 / 1) (#14)
    by Jeralyn on Sat Oct 22, 2011 at 11:59:07 PM EST
    to win a conviction. Nor is it to search for the truth. It is to see that justice is done.

    Even DOJ says:

    Each prosecutor must always remember that he/she is a representative of the court and must behave fairly and provide justice to the country's citizens.

    ABA Prosecution Standards

    (c) The duty of the prosecutor is to seek justice, not merely to convict.


    Although the prosecutor operates within the adversary system, it is fundamental that the prosecutor's obligation is to protect the innocent as well as to convict the guilty, to guard the rights of the accused as well as to enforce the rights of the public."

    And in the landmark case of (none / 0) (#15)
    by Jeralyn on Sun Oct 23, 2011 at 12:08:21 AM EST
    Berger v. US, 295 U.S. 78, 88 (1935), which remains one of the most quoted by courts on the topic:

    "The United States attorney is the representative not of an ordinary party to a controversy, but of a sovereignty whose obligation to govern impartially is as compelling as its obligation to govern at all; and whose interest, therefore, in a criminal prosecution is not that it shall win a case, but that justice shall be done.

    As such, he is in a peculiar and very definite sense the servant of the law, the twofold aim of which is that guilt shall not escape or innocence suffer. He may prosecute with earnestness and vigor -- indeed, he should do so.

    But, while he may strike hard blows, he is not at liberty to strike foul ones. It is as much his duty to refrain from improper methods calculated to produce a wrongful conviction as it is to use every legitimate means to bring about a just one."

    Collateral Damage (none / 0) (#18)
    by Rojas on Sun Oct 23, 2011 at 01:12:02 PM EST
    when the state plays hide the ball.

    Phillip Baker said...

     There is a far greater consequence to the seeming misconduct of the Morton prosecutors. The staggering injustice of putting Morton in prison wrongfully for almost 25 years is hard to even imagine. But, had those prosecutors actually done their jobs and fully investigated that murder, the killer probably could have been found then and stopped. Instead he was left free to continue his crimes. He murdered Debra Masters Baker, a beautiful, loving woman, in Jan 1988 - my wife and mother of my children. Like Eric Morton, Debbie's son also lost his mother. The sorrow and grief suffered by all those who knew Debbie has lasted 23 years with no sign of resolution until now. It would be impossible to articulate the deep wounds those poor kids have borne all these years with no end, no closure..

    In my mind Anderson, Davis and Bradley are complicit in the murder of Debra Baker and should have to pay for it.

    de jure, de facto (none / 0) (#16)
    by NYShooter on Sun Oct 23, 2011 at 04:57:38 AM EST
    Trying not to be too cynical here, but if prosecutors actually practiced what their job requires: "seeing that justice is done," half the prisoners in jail today would be sleeping at home with their families tonight.