Skip to comments.DNA frees man who spent almost 23 years in prison for rape
Posted on 04/16/2008 7:28:06 PM PDT by Strategerist
After spending nearly 23 years in prison for a rape he did not commit, Thomas Clifford McGowan on Wednesday heard the words that set him free.
"Words cannot express how sorry I am for the last 23 years," said state District Judge Susan Hawk, moments after overturning his convictions. "I believe you can walk out of here a free man."
McGowan, 49, won his freedom after a DNA test this month proved what he had always professed: that he did not rape a Dallas-area woman in 1985 and then burglarize her apartment. He was convicted of both crimes in separate trials in 1985 and 1986 and sentenced to life each time. The primary evidence against him turned out to be misidentification by the rape victim.
"I've been living a life of a living hell and my nightmare is finally over with," McGowan said after the hearing. "This is the first day of my life. I'm going to go forward."
Hawk's ruling, which now must be affirmed by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, makes McGowan the 17th Dallas man since 2001 to have his conviction cast aside because of DNA testing. That's the most of any county in the nation, according to the Innocence Project, a New York-based legal center that specializes in overturning wrongful convictions.
Overall, 31 people have been formally exonerated through DNA testing in Texas, also a national high. That does not include McGowan and at least two others whose exonerations will not become official until Gov. Rick Perry grants pardons or the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals issues its rulings.
The crowded courtroom included dozens of McGowan's relatives. Also attending were three Dallas County men who had been wrongly convicted and eventually exonerated by DNA testing. They greeted McGowan with handshakes and hugs, and one gave him a $100 bill to "get him started."
McGowan, wearing a button-down shirt and slacks, looked trim and relieved. He said he prayed frequently and was benefiting from some "powerful forces." While in prison, one of McGowan's sisters died, and he said he missed watching his sibling's children grow up.
"I know God forgives, so hey, I've got to forgive, too," McGowan said. "It's not going to benefit me to be harboring anger or resentment."
McGowan's wrongful imprisonment began in May 1985 when a Richardson woman returned home and came upon a burglar in her apartment. The man bound her hands with his belt, raped her at knifepoint and then loaded his car with several items stolen from her apartment, according to court documents.
Police eventually presented the woman with a photo array of seven men. She picked out McGowan's photo, saying she "thought" he was the attacker. But police told her she had to be certain and "couldn't just think it was him," she testified in court. It was then that she said McGowan was "definitely" the attacker, according to court documents.
Just a few words from a police officer can significantly influence whether a witness identifies the wrong person, Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck said.
"It's not that the police officer involved in this matter was intentionally doing anything wrong. He wasn't," Scheck said. "That kind of a forced choice response ... is very, very damaging."
More exonerations are expected in Dallas County, where District Attorney Craig Watkins has set up a program in which law students, supervised by the Innocence Project of Texas, are reviewing hundreds of cases in which convicts have requested DNA testing to prove their innocence. About 10 Dallas County cases are in various stages of investigations and DNA testing, and another exoneration is likely within the next few weeks, prosecutors said.
Watkins said he plans to lobby other prosecutors to put in place similar programs.
"This should not be a pilot program that lasts two or three years," Watkins said.
The DNA from McGowan's case yielded a full profile that is now being run through state and federal databases, assistant prosecutor Mike Ware said. If a match is found, it could identify the true rapist.
I'm not in favor of the press hectoring the victims asking about it but I always wonder how they deal with the mistaken IDs mentally. Most, as in this case, are steered towards the ID by the police, so not like it's entirely their fault.
Hang him. Slowly.
And let his blood be on their heads.
Next, we’ll learn that the rape didn’t even take place!
I am. An innocent man lost half his adult life because of this woman. I want her, the cops, and the prosecution held to account. If that means reporters camped out on their front lawns for the next 5 years, so be it.
I hope the guy sues the hell out of the woman who accused him and the prosecutor who put him in jail.
Why did it take so many years to test his DNA, when DNA testing has been around many years time now?
I’ve noticed some people get really annoyed by these stories.
There was one guy that was absolutely convinced that all these people were actually guilty but they were “chimeras” (had two types of DNA, which is beyond insanely rare.)
Er....Why did it take so many years to test his DNA, when DNA testing has been around so many years now?
Unless the victim knows their attacker, witness ID is perhaps the most unreliable evidence allowed to be introduced in a courtroom. As a coach, it took me three baseball practices to be able to tell two kids apart who weren’t related to each other. I kept calling Michael “Isaac,” and Isaac “Michael.” I still have to look really close to tell who I’m talking to.
That happens a heck of lot more (according to the recidivism rate) than the way this story turned out.
Does DNA evidence degenerate?
These things happen every day now. Not rape and 23 years in the slammer, but false, frivolous accusations of “sexual harassment” and all the consequences of such accusations that you never read about in the papers. Talk to people, ask around if you don’t believe it, I have, there is a war going on out there!
You have a woman that's suffered a violent rape. Not certain what you mean, but I've noticed people have trouble processing the idea that the rape victim wasn't deliberately lying - she made a mistake.
Based on the pic the guy released was black. I strongly suspect the victim was white.
Studies have actually shown that people have difficulty telling people of other races apart; most, but not all, of these cases are white women raped by black men, with the victim making a mistaken ID.
So you have a psychologically shaken and violent women being shown mugbooks by the police (who just want a conviction as fast as possible) who routinely "Steer" the victims to making an ID.
These victims come to genuinely believe they're certain about the IDs. They don't do this maliciously and cavalierly.
Let's face it - any rape trial where the victim IDs the attacker, the defendant doesn't have a prayer.
The people at fault are 1) the police 2) the prosecution and 3) juries, that don't understand the mountain of psychological research documenting the inaccuracy of eyewitnesses to crimes.
The rape victims end up victimized twice.
Somebody has to pay for it. The state isn't going to offer up public funds to try to exonerate somebody they paid a lot of money to convict. Therefore, it requires donations. I don't need to ask you how much you donated. It was the same amount as my donation.
Um, the rape most likely happened b/c that’s where the DNA most likely came from...
It’s also an incredibly long and involved process to appeal a conviction and get the evidence tested. DAs and such don’t exactly fall all over themselves to accomodate the process.
I trust police about as far as I can throw them.
D.N.A. EVIDENCE.....yes a rape took place.
Alright, fair enough. I still want SOMEBODY, like the cops or prosecutors, to suffer for this, though.