Cuccinelli asks court to free prisoner
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.
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.
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.
| February 15, 2011; 6:33 PM ET
Categories: From the Courthouse, Maria Glod, Updates, Virginia
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