FORT WORTH (CBSDFW.COM) – After serving 24 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, today a North Texas man received an apology from a judge and a standing ovation in the courtroom.
David Lee Wiggins was freed from jail Friday after DNA tests proved he wasn’t the person who raped a 14-year-old girl back in 1988.
Wiggins was convicted of Aggravated Sexual Assault in 1989 after the teen victim identified him. The person who assaulted the young girl had covered her face for during most of the attack. Police showed the girl a photo lineup, then a live lineup and the girl said Wiggins looked familiar.
“He [Wiggins] was the only person who was both in the photo array and in the lineup, so of course she recognized him,” said Nina Morrison, an attorney with the Innocence Project of New York.
As he left the courtroom today he said he had no animosity toward the victim who mistakenly identified him.
“It was never he fault. She didn’t do nothing… I know that,” he said. “She was a victim. I’m sorry about what happened to her and I want her to know it.”
The Innocence Project nonprofit group successfully obtained the DNA test that proved Wiggins definitely wasn’t the girl’s attacker.
Recalling the day he got word about the test results Wiggins said, “They [the Innocence Project] called me again and said that the results are in and I’m innocent. It was kind of like ya know when I first got the life sentence. I was numb. I couldn’t really believe it.”
Wiggins said his release has brought relief but admitted the decades in prison weren’t easy.
“At first, like I said, I was bitter and angry and my record will reflect it,” he said. “I was anxious a few times, but I always believed that the truth would come out.”
Ultimate the now 48-year-old said he survived because of his faith.
“Jesus Christ, as a matter of fact, brought me through,” he explained. “I read in the Word ya know that faith will move mountains and surely this was a mountain I needed moved.”
Wiggins sister, Candy Berg, was by his side in court Friday. She was a police officer at the time of his arrest.
“It was very difficult. It was heart wrenching because nobody wants to see their relatives behind bars,” she said. “I wanted him to be happy and have a family and it seemed like that was just all going away.”
Of Wiggins years behind bars Berg said, “We’ve always known he was innocent of this. I’ve never doubted that for a moment, but the judicial system, you have to let it work.”
Wiggins is the second person in Tarrant County to have a conviction overturned by DNA, since 2001 when Texas passed a statute allowing convicted inmates to request post-conviction DNA testing.
State District Judge Louis Sturns freed Wiggins on a personal bond. Now the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals must accept the judge’s recommendation or the governor must grant a pardon.
If Wiggins conviction is formally reversed he will be eligible for $80,000 a year in compensation that Texas pays to wrongfully convicted ex-inmates.
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