Cleared by DNA in two of the cases for which he’s been charged, Thomas Haynesworth has spent 27 years in prison for rape and other attacks, maintaining his innocence all the while. He is unable to be cleared of two other attacks because there is no DNA evidence available, but the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project is currently working to file documents that would ask the court to free Haynesworth anyway.
Eighteen-year-old Thomas Haynesworth was arrested in 1984 in Richmond VA. He underwent four trials, which led to three convictions and one acquittal, and received a sentenced of 74 years in prison.
Haynesworth was arrested based on eyewitness identification that DNA later proved to be inaccurate. As we’ve seen many times before, eyewitnesses cannot always be counted on to accurately identify their attackers, as in nearly three quarters of DNA-based exonerations the original conviction was based on eyewitness misidentification. One victim, raped in the day care center where she worked, is now advocating for Haynesworth’s release. “It is about righting a wrong and setting an innocent man free so he can get home to his family,” she said in an e-mail to The Washington Post. However, another woman, in a case where no DNA evidence was found, stands by her original testimony.
Since his conviction in 1984, Haynesworth has passed two polygraph tests. The examiner was quoted as saying, “This ain’t your guy.” DNA linked another man, convicted rapist Leon W. Davis, to two of the rapes originally tied to Haynesworth. Davis is currently in jail for life for a number of rapes in the same community. Davis resembles Haynesworth physically, which accounts for the eyewitness misidentification, and the two men share a blood type. Detectives also found similarities between the crimes that Davis is known to have committed and the ones attributed to Thomas Haynesworth.
While exoneration is not yet certain, county prosecutors as well as the Virginia Attorney General support these measures. Wade Kizer, Henrico County Commonwealth’s Attorney, said, “I very much hope Mr. Haynesworth gets released very soon. 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.” Richmond Commonwealth’s Attorney Michael Herring said simply, “This is a sad case of the wrong guy locked up.”
Innocence Project director, Peter Neufeld, who is one of Haynesworth’s attorneys, pointed out that after so many exonerations based on DNA testing, prosecutors are more likely to re-examine old cases.
Washington Post – Man imprisoned for 27 years hopes that some evidence is enough for freedom
Washington Post – Timeline: Thomas Haynesworth
The Innocence Project – Understand the Causes: Eyewitness Misidentification