In December 1980, an African American man broke into an Allston, MA apartment and raped and robbed three women. In 1984, Ulysses Charles was charged and convicted of the rapes after being identified in a photo array by two of the victims and in a line-up by the third victim, 35 months after the crime.
Charles repeatedly refused to take a reduced sentence in return for a confession, always maintaining his innocence. Finally, in 1993 he was allowed to obtain the victim’s medical records taken at the hospital following the rape. The records showed that the police had failed to preserve vaginal swabs, despite repeated warnings from the hospital that they would be destroyed if not picked up. At trial the Commonwealth had maintained that no such swabs existed. Further evidence came to light that a robe worn by one of the victims did have seminal fluid on it, although experts at the trial testified that no spermatozoa had been found on the robe. In 1999, DNA testing of this material conclusively excluded Charles as the rapist.
Further revelations emerged as the defendant gained access to the Commonwealth’s files. In initial interviews with the victims, one woman had told police that she was 90% sure the rapist was circumcised (Charles is not), but her testimony was withheld from the defense at the time of trial.
In May 2001, the court vacated Charles’ conviction. Citing the number of intervening years and lack of evidence, the Commonwealth decided not to retry the case. Following a federal civil rights suit against the City of Boston, Charles was awarded $3.5 million, after having been awarded $500,000 under the state’s wrongful compensation law. Ulysses Charles was represented by Julie Boyden and Steven Hrones.