DNA Tests Clear Two of Rape

Affiliate: ACLU of Texas
September 30, 2000 12:00 am

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HOUSTON, TX — DNA evidence has cleared two wrongly convicted men, the Houston Chronicle reported.

Anthony Robinson of Houston and Carlos Lavernia of Austin were both convicted, in unrelated cases, of rape on the basis of eyewitness accounts, according to the Chronicle. But sophisticated DNA test findings have overridden the verdicts of the juries in both cases.

Robinson, who proclaimed his innocence from the moment he was arrested in 1987 and volunteered to give a blood sample immediately, was sentenced to 27 years in prison and paroled in 1997. At the time of his trial, he didn’t have enough money for the complicated DNA testing required to prove his innocence. He later earned the $1800 two years after being paroled.

His case demonstrates the unreliability of eyewitness testimony, asserts Robinson’s attorney Randy Schaffer. Robinson fit the description of a suspected rapist on a college campus, in part because he wore clothing similar to that of the attacker.

Carlos Lavernia also maintained his innocence while being accused and convicted of sexual assault in 1985. He was sentenced to 99 years in prison, reports the Associated Press. Austin authorities identified the Cuban man as the person responsible for seven rapes. Recent DNA evidence has shown that he was not involved in any of the attacks.

On the basis of such wrongful convictions as Lavernia’s, a review committee has been established in Austin to study cases from before 1996. The review board will include members of the Austin Police Department as well as staffers from District Attorney Ronnie Earle’s office.

During the past three years, three other incarcerated Texans have been freed on the basis of DNA evidence.

Ben Salazar of Austin was freed five years after his 1992 conviction; A.B. Butler, Jr. of Tyler was cleared 17 years after a 1983 conviction; and Kevin Byrd of Houston was released in 1997 after 12 years in prison.

The wrongfully convicted can recover a maximum of $25,000 from the state. They cannot, of course, be reimbursed for the lost years of their lives.

DNA evidence has proven especially crucial in numerous capital cases, and has led to the exoneration of many death-row inmates who were wrongly convicted.

The American Civil Liberties Union supports the Innocence Protection Act, proposed federal legislation which would, among other things, ensure that people convicted of capital crimes have meaningful access to DNA evidence that could exonerate them.

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