Virginia Exonerates Thomas Haynesworth

Thomas E. Haynesworth spoke earlier this year to the state Forensic Sciences Board. Credit: Alexa Welch Edlund/Times-Dispatch

From the Richmond Times-Dispatch:

The Virginia Court of Appeals has granted a writ of actual innocence for Thomas E. Haynesworth, the Richmond man who served 27 years in prison after being wrongfully convicted in a series of rapes in the 1980s.

The vote in the court was split 6-4, with the majority issuing a two-line declaration and the minority issuing a multi-page dissension, said Olga Akselrod, a lawyer for the Innocence Project, which worked for Haynesworth’s release from prison and his court rendered exoneration.

“Thomas is now exonerated,” said Akselrod. “His record is going to be totally expunged. He will be removed from the sex offenders list and there will be no more restirctions on him,” she added.

“He’s finally free.”

Haynesworth, 46, spent 27 years behind bars before being paroled by Gov. Bob McDonnell in March after DNA evidence cleared him of a series of sexual assaults for which he was convicted in 1984.

“I’m happy, I’m glad it’s over with,” said Haynesworth, reached by telephone. He said he is relieved his name has been cleared and that he will longer be living with parole restrictions and have his name on the sex offender registry.

Shawn Armbrust of the Mid Atlantic Innocence Commission and one of Haynesworth’s lawyers, said, “We’re thrilled for Thomas that he’s finally free.

“It’s a shame that it took this long and that it was this difficult given how persuasive and compelling his case was but we’re glad that the court ultimately reached the right result,” said Armbrust.

For years, law-enforcement agencies have maintained that the same person committed a series of sex assaults in the Richmond neighborhood where Haynesworth lived.

Because DNA evidence exonerated Haynesworth in two of the cases and implicated another neighborhood man — convicted serial rapist Leon Davis — who bore a resemblance to Haynesworth, lawyers argued that eyewitness testimony linking Haynesworth to the crimes in Henrico and Richmond was similarly mistaken.

The ruling vacates convictions in two cases for which there are no biological tests that can be conducted. Davis, who is serving more than 100 years in prison, has refused to discuss the case.

To exonerate Haynesworth, the Court of Appeals had to conclude that, given the new evidence, no reasonable juror would find Haynesworth guilty. The court had the option of granting the writs of actual innocence, rejecting them or referring the cases to the circuit courts for further review.

Since his parole, Haynesworth has been working at the Virginia Attorney General’s office for Ken Cuccinelli, who, convinced of Haynesworth’s innocence, also championed his case and was among the attorneys who argued for his full exoneration by the Court of Appeals in late September.

“Today, we celebrate Thomas Haynesworth’s freedom. And today, we recognize that justice has prevailed,” Cuccinelli said. “We encouraged Thomas’s legal team to apply for writs of actual innocence to allow him to be freed from prison and exonerated of the convictions. This office supported the application.”

Cuccinelli added that normally an attorney general would be “fighting to keep people in jail.

“But this office has an obligation to see that justice is done in every case, regardless of which side of the courtroom that justice may fall,” Cuccinelli said.

“Here, unlike the vast majority of cases we handle, our duty was not to defend a defendant’s conviction, but to prove his innocence. Justice demanded it,” he said.

A news conference on the court’s ruling is expected to take place later this afternoon.

(This has been a breaking news update. Check back for more details as they become available. Read more in tomorrow’s Richmond Times-Dispatch.)

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One thought on “Virginia Exonerates Thomas Haynesworth

  1. Thank God! It is heartwarming to see these cases end well sometimes. Even if it is the exception

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