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.
Um, like the Duke Universaity rape, right?! Yeah, blame the police and the prosecutors, the “victim” is saintly!
He wasn't so hot as a general, but I would retain him for a lawyer, if he weren't dead.
I have a good friend who quit being a public defender because of the lies of the cops and prosecution. Another friend of mine had his life and health ruined over an idiot prosecutor who tried him with bogus evidence. He is dead now.
If this guy has a case, he should sue the pants off of the idiots who made his life agony. Ruin their lives, the way they ruined his.
This man lost half his entire life. I think something should be done to help him.
And ID by witnesses is perhaps the least reliable “evidence.”
People need to understand that one of the reasons for putting people in prison is to make an example of them - deterrence. So, it really doesn't matter if the person you send to prison is actually guilty or innocent. It still serves as an example so long as the mistake is never exposed.
It is appeals like this one that cause the damage.
Like I said, people don't get it. Most of these cases are white women raped by black guys who are complete strangers.
The victims aren't liars; they're actually raped, they get shown a lineup or a mugbook, and the police pressure them to pick "somebody." In the trials the victims genuinely believe they're IDing the rapist.
You know there are people on FR that believe being a criminal defense attorney is fundamentally immmoral....
Did this wrongly convicted man have any sort of criminal record before this case?
I believe Barry Scheck, his associates and anti-death penalty types would have no moral qualms about pulling some trick or fraud.
There are people like magicians and card sharks that can switch objects or manipulate objects while you are closely watching them. I would feel much more comfortable if I knew for an absolute fact that every possible avenue of fraud was covered.
What if, for example, someone with access to the location where the evidence was stored from old cases was bribed or for their own reasons changed the evidence samples. The police could closely monitor the testing process and still be fooled because the original sample taken years earlier was switched.
There have been a number of these cases where there was other evidence which strongly indicated guilt and I think there are at least two cases where the “innocent” man was released and not long after being released committed a rape or murder.
People do get it and you are stating the obvious (describing the procedure), but now, after 23 years, who ism who has been the real victim here? No excuse for the rape victim, none!
The appeal process is lengthy - but not because the DAs aren’t cooperating. The prosecutor must turn over his entire casefile prior to trial. Appeals take so long because of the appellate court’s docket and scheduling.
I wouldn’t agree with Abe on that one.
Those 100 guilty go free to harm how many future victims?
What did their victims do to deserve this?
Eh, likely; most (but not all) of these guys have some sort of petty criminal record or scrapes with the law, hence they make it into a mugbook.
So to a lot of people it's fine to get locked away for decades for a crime you didn't commit as long as you have any criminal record at all.
Let me get this straight. Some guy breaks into your house and commits unspeakable acts on you and your family. You go to a lineup a week later and see the man you are absolutely positive is the one who committed these acts. I mean, there is not one iota of doubt in your mind. If there is no other evidence, then you believe the cops should just let the guy go?
In quite a few of these cases the “real” rapist has been later found (fortunately a lot of the time they end up locked away for other crimes.)
Sometimes you just have to admit the police and prosecutors aren’t perfect, victims make mistakes, and juries are uneducated rather than falling back on “Barry Sheck and the Innocence Project are a bunch of Commie Pinko Liberals.”
I know too many cops and lawyers to have any ideas of "justice". It's just a process, like sausage.
Here in Illinois they caught the 2 Brown's Chicken murderers after 10 years on the loose. One of them had a meal at the place and luckily the cops saved the evidence just in case.
I surely hope if they re-institute the death penalty these two are the first to go.
"Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached." - Manuel II Palelologus
I don’t think we have been presented with any facts to suggest that the police and/or prosecutors intentionally charged a man they knew to be innocent. It sounds like an extremely tragic mistake.
BTW, you can’t sue the police or the prosecutors for charging and trying you just because evidence later exonerates you. Short of a “malicious prosecution” suit, it’s just a horrible, tragic mistake.
If that's the ONLY evidence in a stranger rape, I'd never convict were I on a jury.
(I have been aon a jury and convicted someone of child molestation with no physical evidence and the testimony of the victim; perp was the boyfriend of the girl's grandmother. Turns out he had numerous priors for child molestation, and died of a heart attack two days after the conviction)
The basic problem here is eyewitness testimony is TERRIBLE, this has been proven again and again by psychological experiments; but the only knowledge people have of the legal system are movies and TV dramas - you NEVER see shows where an eyewitness makes a simple mistake.
You are absolutely right. This is not something new. People in law enforcement and even in civil law know well, and have known well for a long time, that eyewitness testimony is both the weakest from a reliability standpoint, but the strongest in influencing a jury.
It is a bit counterintuitive, but eyewitness testimony is not nearly as credible as most think. The courts, judges, and lawyers, including prosecutors, know it too. They also know that juries are heavily influenced by such testimony.
Why the deference to such inherently unreliable testimony?
Well, courts (i.e., government) make money out it, judges cravenly defer to the jury, criminal defense lawyers scream about it, but no one listens, and prosecutors use it to advance what are often political careers thereby violating their oath of office.
In cases like this in Florida, the state usually approves about $50K per year in prison payment to a wrongly convicted person. I have no problem with this at all, but I think whoever is responsible for delaying a DNA test should pick up the tab from the date they first declined to test the evidence.
What most people don’t think about when they complain about “defendant’s rights” (”What about victim’s rights?”, they say), is that when you convict the wrong person of the crime, you simultaneously let the guilty party go free.
DNA has convicted tens of thousands more than it’s freed.
That is correct. And it tends to turn the alleged perp's life into a great big $h!t sandwich. And he'll have to eat on it for the rest of his life. Even if exonerated.
There is no such thing as an "innocent" man. He may not have been guilty of this crime, but we're all guilty of doing things or at least thinking things that are wrong.
Maybe he just wasn't punished for the right wrong, but it still might be right that he was punished. At least it wasn't wrong in that sense.
We at least this isn’t the UK. When they find someone innocent on DNA and release them after 15 years, they charge them room and board.