DNA proves that Karl Vinson didn’t commit the rape for which he’s spent the last 25 years in prison. Yet he’s still incarcerated because, according to Assistant Wayne County Prosecutor Marilyn Eisenbraun, “Science does not trump the testimony of individuals.”
Vinson was accused of raping a 9-year-old girl in 1986, though he and his parents maintained that he was at home at the time of the crime. The victim was originally unable to say who the perpetrator was, but once her mother suggested Karl Vinson, the girl said that he had done it. Vinson and his wife had babysat for the family several years prior to the attack.
Tests of the victim’s bedsheets showed the presence of semen and type O antigens. Vinson’s blood type is AB. He was still convicted based on test results that he was a nonsecretor – that is, his blood type does not show up in semen, saliva, or other non-blood bodily fluids – and therefore he could not be excluded as a suspect. Attempts to test the child’s bedsheets for DNA as early as 1991 were delayed for years and eventually thwarted after fifteen years’ wait when Vinson and his attorneys discovered that the evidence had been destroyed. New tests in 2009 revealed that Karl Vinson is in fact a secretor; thus, if he were the perpetrator the semen would have contained type AB antigens.
Despite this evidence, Vinson was denied a new trial on the grounds that this new information isn’t enough to warrant the case being reopened. The court denied a new trial, explaining that the semen could have come from someone other than the rapist, a theory that the prosecution never brought up at trial.
The Innocence Clinic at the University of Michigan is working with Vinson to appeal this decision.