Gussie Vann of Tennessee has become the 139th former death row inmate exonerated since 1973, after all charges against him were dismissed. Van was convicted for the 1994 sexual assault and murder of his eight-year-old daughter, Necia Vann, in 1992. The death was originally reported as an accidental hanging.
Vann was awarded a new trial in 2008 after Judge Donald P. Harris ruled that defense attorneys for Vann failed to hire forensic experts to dispute the state’s claims of sexual abuse. Forensic experts would testify in later hearings that there were no signs of sexual abuse reported in the autopsy prepared by a former medical examiner.
Judge Harris wrote that the defense attorneys’s failure to dispute the state’s claims with expert testimony led to Vann being convicted on “inaccurate, exaggerated and speculative medical testimony.” Judge Harris described the failings of Vann’s original attorneys as “not only prejudicial, but disastrous.”
The state elected not to appeal this ruling, though it did try to find grounds for a conviction on a lesser offense. Ultimately all charges were dropped by the state on September 22, 2011. Vann is the first death row inmate exonerated in the country in 2011.