Henry James was wrongfully convicted of aggravated rape in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana in 1982, and he was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
IPNO—working with the New York Innocence Project and the New York firm Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP—searched for the evidence in Mr. James’s case so that it could be subjected to DNA testing. IPNO staff went through boxes and boxes of old evidence with Jefferson Parish Crime Lab Director Milton Dureau, all to no avail. Months later, Mr. Dureau was searching for evidence in an unrelated case and just happened to come across the evidence in Mr. James’s case. The Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office and District Attorney’s office quickly agreed to DNA testing, and the evidence was sent off to a lab. On September 26, 2011, the lab reported that its DNA testing excluded James as the perpetrator in the rape.
Henry James was wrongfully convicted for two reasons: like more than 75% of DNA exonerees, the victim mistakenly identified Mr. James as her attacker, and Mr. James’s lawyer failed to pick up on a vital piece of forensic evidence that might have cleared his client. Mr. James lived adjacent to the victim and spent most of the day before the crime helping the victim’s husband repair his car. The victim was aware that James lived nearby and had seen him three or four times before. Immediately after her attack, she told police that she didn’t know her assailant but gave a brief description of her attacker. It was only the next day, after a police officer presented her with a picture of Mr. James, that she identified him as the rapist. The record contains no indication that the victim told the police that she had previously met her attacker, much less that he had spent the previous day with her husband.
Before Mr. James’s trial, the crime lab performed serological testing of the rape kit and learned that the rapist was a “non-secretor”—a person who, like approximately 20% of people, does not secrete antigens in their body fluids that would allow a serologist to determine his blood type. Mr. James, however, is a secretor. This serological exclusion was provided to Mr. James’s lawyer, but he didn’t mention anything about it at trial, and so the jury never heard about powerful forensic evidence pointing to Mr. James’s innocence.
After DNA testing finally cleared Henry James nearly 30 years after the crime, the District Attorney’s Office and the Sheriff’s Office moved quickly to rectify the wrong done to Mr. James, and he was released from Louisiana State Penitentiary on October 21, 2011.
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