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Posted at 6:33 PM ET, 02/15/2011

Cuccinelli asks court to free prisoner

By Maria Glod

Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II on Tuesday asked a judge to issue a rare writ of innocence to a prisoner who has spent 27 years behind bars for crimes prosecutors now agree he did not commit.

Thomas Haynesworth, 45, should be freed from prison and his convictions erased, Cuccinelli said in papers filed with the Virginia Court of Appeals.

Authorities believe Haynesworth, who was sentenced to 74 years in prison for a series of rapes and other attacks on women, was mistakenly identified by several victims who were attacked in 1984 in a Richmond neighborhood.

They believe a convicted rapist named Leon Davis, who called himself the "Black Ninja," is the true perpetrator.


Davis in 1985. (Va. Attorney General)

DNA recently exonerated Haynesworth in two of the attacks and implicated Davis. There is no DNA evidence in the two remaining attacks, but Haynesworth's lawyers, headed by the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project, argue the evidence points to innocence.

Haynesworth and Davis lived in the same neighborhood and resembled each other, authorities said. The crimes were similar, and occurred around the same time. And Haynesworth, who has claimed innocence since his 1985 arrest, recently passed two polygraph examinations.

In a the 38-page court filling, the Attorney General's office laid out the details of each crime, the results of DNA testing and other evidence. If a jury heard those facts today, the state concluded, Haynesworth would not be convicted.


Haynesworth in 1985. (Va. Attorney General)

Cuccinelli asked that the writs of innocence be "expeditiously granted," and that Haynesworth's convictions be vacated "resulting in Haynesworth's release after 27 years of imprisonment."

In a recent interview, Haynesworth, who is being held at Greensville Correctional Center in Jarratt, Va., said if he is released the first thing he plans to do is visit the grave of his brother, who died after he was locked up.

"I'm not what they portray me to be," Haynesworth said. "I hope now they will see the truth."

If the Virginia Court of Appeals grants the request, it will be only the second time it has exonerated a convict in a case that does not have the certainty of genetic evidence.

It's unlikely Davis would be tried for additional crimes if Haynesworth were exonerated, authorities said, because he is already serving multiple live sentences for his crimes.

By Maria Glod  | February 15, 2011; 6:33 PM ET
Categories:  From the Courthouse, Maria Glod, Updates, Virginia  
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Comments

imagine if he had gotten the death penalty after being wrongfully convicted....

thankfully science, and the persistence of the wrongly accused and Innocence Project prevailed...

Posted by: cornbread_jones | February 15, 2011 7:59 PM | Report abuse

It is very sad that this young man was wrongly convicted and all of his young life taken away. Where was that polygraph back then, but there are many more innocents in Virginia prisons because they were unable to prove their innocence because they did not have the resources to launch an adequate defense, not to mention all of those that should get DNA testing, if this country and this state was TRULY INTERESTED IN JUSTICE, instead of just locking up someone for these crimes. And usually someone who cannot adequately defend themselves, while those that have the most resourcs most unfortunate part about not arresting the right person, is that the perpetrator remains free to commit more serious crimes in our communities.

Posted by: hotezzy | February 16, 2011 12:16 AM | Report abuse

"Where was that polygraph back then, but there are many more innocents in Virginia prisons because they were unable to prove their innocence because they did not have the resources to launch an adequate defense, not to mention all of those that should get DNA testing, "

...not really.

This happens because it is impossible for someone to "prove their innocence" short of proving, conclusively, either that no crime actually happened or that someone else is actually guilty of the crime.

The main problem in most if not all of these cases is that the defendant is the only credible suspect in the eyes of the police, prosecutors, the judge and the jury. Remember that all four have to agree on guilt for a conviction to stand. You can't just have a jury pool filled with a bunch of racist whites eager to string-up a black man for a criminal offense based on nothing more than some circumstantial tie to the case. You need a prosecutor who wants to do that and a judge who is willing to let that happen. And my guess is the fact that he wasn't sentenced to die for raping a bunch of white women in Virginia 25 years ago merely proves that he wasn't the only serious candidate. Just the one they had in custody...the one they weren't going to let go of until they had someone "better" to replace him.

And now they do.

Now 27 years later they are all eager to "set things right".

Posted by: tokenwhitemale | February 16, 2011 3:53 AM | Report abuse

The "Black Ninja" was a serial rapist who targeted women on their morning runs through the Fan District in Richmond. It was sensational because of the Fan District's proximity to a major university and because the race of the victims was white. I think the "Ninja" thing referred to a black ski mask worn by the attacker.

It's tough to believe that he had no alibi for every attack, but then again, the police may have structured the attacks based upon his alibis discovered through interrogation.

For example, if he had people saying he was with them when attacks three and four occured, then the police attributed those attacks to someone else and denied him the opportunity to prove his innocence for the entire series.

Posted by: blasmaic | February 16, 2011 5:50 AM | Report abuse

Looking at the two photos, it's obvious they don't look alike. Their lips are shaped differently, their eyebrows are different, even the noses aren't shaped the same.

Posted by: blackforestcherry | February 16, 2011 8:17 AM | Report abuse

So...when's Cuccinelli going to exonerate and erase the convictions of the Norfolk-5?! They got commuted sentences but still have to spend the rest of their life as sex offenders because previous DA's have refused to clear their records. Frontline did a great expose' on the travesty of that case...

Cuccinelli, do the right thing and clear the Norfolk-5...

Posted by: Jake_99 | February 16, 2011 9:03 AM | Report abuse

I echo Jake_99 about the Norfolk incident, although I thought the defendants were known as the Norfolk Four:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norfolk_Four

Is there more likely to be a miscarriage of justice in these types of prosecutions when the victim is of a different race/ethnicity than the accused? (These errors could be partially attributed to a greater likelihood of misidentifications of suspects by eyewitnesses / crime targets, e.g.)

Posted by: FedUpInMoCo | February 16, 2011 10:35 AM | Report abuse

Cuccinelli actually doing the right thing, well okay.

Posted by: UnknownHenson | February 16, 2011 11:26 AM | Report abuse

The only thing these guys have in common are complexion, which would probably not be simular if the pic was in color. As a person who has lost family to anothers inhumanity to man, i can understand the desire to have someone pay, but at the end of the day, think, would you want to go to jail or someone you love go to jail for no reason, just to satisfy someone pain. You may think you are healed, but you are not if an innocent person is serving time.

Posted by: bobby31 | February 16, 2011 11:31 AM | Report abuse

I'm no fan of Cuucinelli, but I'll give credit where it's due. As one poster said, fortunately he wasn't executed.

Posted by: jckdoors | February 16, 2011 1:02 PM | Report abuse

i don't understand the statement "IF he is released????" how could he not be. the question that should be asked is HOW MUCH MONEY WILL HE RECEIVE FOR THE SCREWUP?

Posted by: dcjazzman | February 16, 2011 2:08 PM | Report abuse

Cuccinelli sees this case as a "slam-dunk" for polishing his "compassionate-guy" persona, as he very aggressively strives toward some higher office.

That, or else he's probably suffered a stroke or seizure.

Posted by: clitteigh | February 16, 2011 3:56 PM | Report abuse

Cuccinelli sees this case as a "slam-dunk" for polishing his "compassionate-guy" persona, as he very aggressively strives toward some higher office.

That, or else he's probably suffered a stroke or seizure.

Posted by: clitteigh | February 16, 2011 3:58 PM | Report abuse

For Cooch, you can file this under the "Blind Squirrel finds Nut" category.

Posted by: RogerRamjet2 | February 16, 2011 4:29 PM | Report abuse

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