Charles Allen Chatman yesterday walked out of the same Dallas court that sent him to prison in 1981 for an aggravated rape that recent genetic testing shows he could not have committed, reports the Dallas Morning News. He is the 15th former convict from Dallas County to make that same walk to freedom based on DNA testing since 2001. He served more time than any of the others. Four of the exonerated men were in the courtroom to witness his release. Chatman, 47, hasn’t been free of state custody since Ronald Reagan was inaugurated as president in January 1981. He will have to relearn how to use a knife or fork to cut his food. He had not seen a cellular telephone until he called his family to tell them the news that he had been cleared.
Chatman said he and the victim lived five houses apart for 13 years and knew one another by sight and by name. His arrest, he contended, was racially motivated. He was black and the victim was white. A judge had sentenced Chatman to 99 years in prison. District Attorney Craig Watkins, who has made DNA-based exonerations a hallmark of his first year in office, apologized to Chatman, shook his hand and praised his long effort to clear himself. “You are an example of how justice is supposed to work,” Watkins said.