On April 27, 2012, Darrin Hill was freed and exonerated after being wrongly confined at a state mental health hospital in Jackson, Louisiana for 20 years. Darrin was confined due to the false belief he was the perpetrator of a 1992 abduction and rape. Darrin, who suffers from mental illness, was a suspect for this crime because his checkbook was discovered in the victim’s car. Darrin was four to six inches shorter and 30 pounds lighter than the attacker described by the victim. However, he was put in a line-up and mis-identified by the victim.
Darrin turned himself in as soon as he learned he was a suspect. He was initially held without a trial as his mental illness meant he could not understand court proceedings. In 1990, after over six years of confinement at a state mental health hospital, he then entered a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity. This plea presupposed that Darrin had committed the crime at issue and this was the basis for his continued indefinite confinement. Darrin’s progress reports described him as “pleasant and cooperative.” However, he was not released as he denied “any and all wrong doing” and lacked “insight” into the crime.
In 2011, IPNO staff, who were cataloging evidence at Orleans Parish Criminal District Court pursuant to a grant from the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) that was secured for the state by IPNO, found the rape kit that was collected in the case. IPNO and the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office jointly moved for DNA testing of the rape kit. The testing conclusively established that Darrin did not commit the crime. Further investigation showed that the reason his checkbook was in the victim’s car was because some of his acquaintances had manipulated him into opening a bank account and then stolen his checkbook and identification.
As his confinement was based on the untrue belief he was an unrepentant rapist, both parties then moved for Darrin’s immediate release. After a brief court hearing, Judge Frank Marullo told Darrin he was free to go immediately. Darrin left the courthouse and returned home with his mother after 20 years of wrongful confinement.
Darrin is the first person freed as a result of the NIJ grant secured by IPNO. Without this grant, he would likely never have been freed, as there is no provision for DNA testing on behalf of persons committed to mental health facilities because they are believed to have committed violent crimes while mentally ill. In fact, IPNO’s research suggests this is the first case ever in which a person so committed has been freed due to proof of innocence. And, not only has the DNA testing freed Darrin, it also provided law enforcement with the actual rapist’s DNA profile. The DNA was later matched to Derrick Woodberry, who was already imprisoned on another rape conviction. One September 13, 2013, Woodberry was convicted of the rape of which Hill had been exonerated.
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