Freed Virginia Man Works to Clear his Name

September 30th, 2011

In 1984 18-year-old Thomas Haynesworth went to the grocery store to pick up a few things for his mother. He never made it home. He was arrested by police on suspicion of committing five different rapes in the area after one of the victims identified him as the perpetrator. Haynesworth was convicted and sentenced to 84 years in prison. After DNA testing became available, tests conclusively demonstrated that Haynesworth could not have committed two of the rapes; rather, the test results pointed to a serial rapist who committed rapes in the area after Haynesworth’s conviction. The DNA results, along with strong circumstantial evidence, led a Virginia parole board to release Haynesworth from prison this past March on his 46th birthday, 27 years after he was first stopped by police.

Haynesworth is now seeking full exoneration for all five of the rapes. Since he has not been exonerated on all the prior convictions, he has to register as a sex offender and request permission to visit his nieces. In July, a three-judge panel in the Court of Appeals for Virginia requested additional briefs, rather than granting Haynesworth’s request for a writ of actual innocence. One of Haynesworth’s supporters is Attorney General Kenneth T. Cuccinelli who believes that the judges are interpreting the law governing granting writs of actual innocence too strictly. He argues that they should not focus narrowly on identifying “conclusive” exonerating evidence, pointing out that the state destroyed the DNA evidence in the other cases, and saying, “It seems paradoxical to demand ‘conclusive’ evidence from Haynesworth when the commonwealth has deprived him of the opportunity to produce such evidence.” As Haynesworth fights to clear his name, the other pieces of his life seem to be falling into place. He was offered a job soon after his release working in Attorney General Cuccinelli’s Richmond office.

Read the NYT article here.