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Louisiana man exonerated of rape after 30-year prison stay

Recently, a 50-year-old Louisiana man was released from prison after being there 30 years from an offense for which he was not guilty. Henry James had been in the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola since his rape conviction in 1982. According to sources he had been convicted of raping a woman in 1981, but recent DNA tests prove that he was not guilty of the rape.

State District Judge Henry Sullivan vacated James' conviction upon the request of Jefferson Parish prosecutors and James' attorney from The Innocence Project.

According to the man's attorneys, he had contact with the victim several times and had been with her husband for most of the day before the attack. He had reportedly been assisting him with some car repairs. He was with the woman's husband when the latter was arrested after a car accident. That night, he went and told the woman about her husband's arrest. The next morning, she was raped by a man who wielded a knife against her. Though she told police didn't know who her attacker was, later on she selected James from a lineup of suspects.

James reportedly had several witnesses vouch that he was sleeping at the time of the rape, but his attorney apparently failed to tell jurors that bodily fluid testing proved James was not the attacker. After years of appeals, James obtained the assistance of The Innocence Project, who requested DNA testing on a rape kit. The results of the test confirmed that James was not guilty of the crime.

Of the 12 Louisiana inmates who have been wrongly convicted and exonerated by DNA tests, James' incarceration was the longest. Sources said James maintained his innocence all along. It is a terrible thing when innocent people are wrongly convicted, and it is wonderful when they are vindicated. Cases like this are exactly why defendants deserve the best possible defense, and why prosecutors need to be kept honest in their attempts to convict defendants.

Source: Associated Press, "Cleared man freed from La. prison after 30 years," Michael Kunzelman, October 21, 2011.

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