December 11, 2007
By Dorie Turner, Associated Press
A man enjoyed freedom Tuesday after a DNA test proved he did not commit a 1979 rape. John Jerome White, 48, left Macon State Prison on Monday evening.
"I'm just thankful that this is behind me," White said at a news conference Tuesday morning with the Georgia Innocence Project, which had worked to free him.
"When I first started out, I wondered why this happened to me," he said, breaking into tears. "I just saw it as something that had to happen because I wasn't living a moral life."
The investigation led to the arrest Tuesday of James Edward Parham, 54, of Manchester, who was on the state's Sex Offender Registry for a 1985 rape conviction, Georgia Bureau of Investigation spokesman John Bankhead said. He was being held in the Meriwether County jail on charges of rape, aggravated assault, burglary and robbery.
A sheriff's office employee declined to say whether Parham had an attorney, and there was no immediate response from the public defender's office. There was no answer on a telephone listed at the address given for Parham in a GBI news release.
White is the seventh Georgia convict to be cleared by DNA evidence, said Aimee Maxwell, director of the Atlanta-based Georgia Innocence Project. In every case, the men were wrongly convicted on eyewitness accounts.
"This case does point out the fallibility of eyewitness identification," Maxwell said.
White was convicted in 1980 of breaking into a 74-year-old woman's home and raping and robbing her. The woman has since died.
He was sentenced to life in prison, then was paroled in 1990. White was sent back to prison for 2 1/2 years on a drug violation in 1993. A 1997 robbery charge led to a conviction, a seven-year sentence and a requirement that he return to serving his life sentence for the rape conviction.
At the urging of the Georgia Innocence Project, authorities tested DNA from hairs found at the scene of the 1979 rape, using tests that weren't available at the time.
District Attorney Peter Skandalakis of the Coweta Judicial District said authorities found that the DNA matched DNA on file in the Georgia Bureau of Investigation database, leading to an investigation of a new suspect. No arrests have been made yet, the GBI says.
Maxwell said her organization is working with state lawmakers and authorities to require all law enforcement agencies to develop and follow clearly written procedures for doing an eyewitness identification with a victim, Maxwell said. The organization says 82 percent of the 355 Georgia law enforcement agencies surveyed do not have any type of written eyewitness standards.
White was joined at the news conference by his wife, three sisters and his mother, Florence White.
"When they called to tell me that he was getting out, I didn't know whether to shout, cry or holler," said his mother, who lives in Meriwether County. "I'm so glad to have him back home one more time before I leave this world."
In North Carolina, meanwhile, charges were dropped Tuesday against a Charlotte man who spent seven years on death row in the killing of a jeweler.
Jonathan Hoffman had been convicted of killing 35-year-old Danny Cook at Cook's Marshville store in 1995, but he won a new trial in 2004.
Union County District Attorney John Snyder said he dismissed charges because two witnesses have died and the prosecution's star witness, Hoffman's cousin, eventually recanted his testimony.
"What you had at the first trial is just not there," Snyder said.
Defense attorney Joseph Cheshire said it wasn't clear when Hoffman would be released.
Hoffman was in disbelief when told about the dropped charges, Cheshire said.
"He just couldn't believe it," Cheshire said. "He was surprised something so dramatic in his life could happen in such a low-key way."
Associated Press writer Martha Waggoner in Raleigh, N.C., contributed to this report.