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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