DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM/AP) - A Dallas man who spent 27 years in prison for aggravated sexual assault is free after being cleared by DNA evidence.
Johnny Pinchback became the 22nd person exonerated through DNA testing in Dallas County when a judge ordered his release Thursday on ordered his release Thursday on a personal recognizance bond.
A courtroom packed with family, friends and other exonerees burst into applause when the order ended a brief hearing.
Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins did not contest the finding that the 55-year-old Pinchback was wrongly convicted of raping two teenage girls in 1984.
The girls claimed Pinchback raped them in a field as they were walking home from school. Their identification of Pinchback for police and again during the trial was the key evidence in his conviction.
Pinchback’s lawyer, Natalie Roetzel, the chief attorney for the Innocence Project of Texas, said it all started when police pulled her client over in 1984, when he was driving a friend’s car. It was a car officer’s had been looking for.
“That’s how he initially became a suspect,” she explained. “Within a week after that the police had presented them with photo lineups and they again selected him, but of course they had seen him in the vehicle about a week prior.”
After being freed, Pinchback said he does not blame the girls who pointed to him as the man who raped them. “I think they were probably pressured to stick with the story to get a conviction, because it was during election time when I was in court anyway,” he said.
The investigation initiated by the Innocence Project led to tests on body hair cuttings from one of the victims that showed the DNA of another man. Roetzel said Pinchback was fortunate because such cuttings don’t always yield DNA evidence and no other material from the rape kit could be located. “We got very lucky that they were able to find seminal fluid on the cuttings, which is rare,” she said.
Roetzel said Pinchback’s belief in his innocence was noticed in prison by another man who felt the same about his own Dallas County aggravated sexual assault conviction. That man, Charles Chatman, was exonerated in 2008 and then began lobbying the Innocence Project on Pinchback’s behalf.
“He was persistent in calling me and saying, ‘Look at Johnny’s case,”‘ Roetzel said. She said Chatman purchased a suit for Pinchback to wear at the hearing.
Pinchback says faith and support from his family kept him motivated to fight for his innocence. “I prayed,” said the newly freed man. “I kept praying and my mother she was like, ‘Don’t never give up son. God… all you got to do is just keep on praying. God will answer your prayer.’ Even though it took 27 years, he did.”
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