What if DNA evidence is available to exonerate a convict in only one of several similar crimes? That’s the dilemma faced by Virginia’s Thomas Haynesworth, who says a neighbor, Leon Davis, known as the “Black Ninja” rapist, committed the four assaults for which Haynesworth was convicted or stood trial. The Richmond Times-Dispatch says that Davis’ genetic profile has been identified in semen left by the assailant in a 1984 forcible sodomy, proving that at least two of Davis’ victims misidentified Haynesworth as their attacker.
Unfortunately for Hayneworth, he remains in prison because no biological evidence remains for testing in two of his remaining convictions. “I would have staked my life on the fact that I knew exactly who had done this,” said a now 47-year-old woman raped at knifepoint who identified Haynesworth as her assailant in a spread of mug shots and again in the courtroom. He was exonerated by the Virginia Supreme Court after DNA testing identified Davis’ DNA profile in semen left at that attack. Victim/eyewitness identifications can carry great weight with juries, but according to the Innocence Project, misidentifications contributed to 75 percent of the 258 convictions across the country proven wrongful by DNA testing. Haynesworth’s lawyers contend their client was wrongly swept up and convicted of attacks committed by Davis, a one-man crime wave now serving six life terms. Shawn Armbrust of the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project said the two crimes for which Haynesworth remains convicted “were committed in the same neighborhoods where Davis raped women, at around the same time, and in the same manner that Davis committed his crimes.”