New DNA tests conclusively prove the innocence of former Virginia death row inmate Earl Washington Jr. and may indicate errors by the state’s forensic laboratory, reports the Washington Post. Washington, who spent 17 years in prison, including more than nine on death row, was pardoned in 2000 in the 1982 rape and murder of a young woman. Although forensic tests cast doubt on his guilt and led to his pardon, a prosecutor has said he remains a suspect.
Washington’s attorneys said results of the new tests show that the evidence that would have cleared Washington and convicted another man has been in the state’s custody for years but was misinterpreted by Virginia forensic scientists. “The powers that be in Virginia have refused to say Earl is factually innocent, and Earl continues to live with that cloud over him,” said Peter Neufeld, one of Washington’s attorneys. “We need to lift up the stone on what’s wrong with Virginia’s system of capital justice and to show everybody how easy it is to send a factually innocent man to death row.”
Paul Ferrara, director of Virginia’s Division of Forensic Science, said he is “fully confident in the accuracy of the work performed” in the case.
Edward Blake, a California scientist, concluded that semen found on the victim’s body was left by a serial rapist named Kenneth Tinsley. Virginia forensic scientists had determined that the genetic material was left by an unidentified man who was not Washington. Confirmation of Blake’s results could end a case that led to public scrutiny of Virginia’s death penalty process and prompted reforms in the criminal justice system.