Jan. 3, 2008
By Paul J. Weber, Associated Press
DALLAS — A man given a life sentence in 1981 for raping a woman learned Wednesday that DNA evidence has cleared his name, according to attorneys who have helped free 14 other wrongfully convicted inmates in Dallas County.
Charles Chatman, 47, is expected to be released from prison Thursday after serving more than 26 years, said Natalie Roetzel of the Innocence Project of Texas.
Chatman would become the 15th inmate from Dallas County since 2001 to be freed by DNA testing, which the Innocence Project says is more than any other prosecuting office in the nation.
"Charles has always maintained his innocence," said Michelle Moore, a Dallas County public defender.
Jamille Bradfield, a spokeswoman for the Dallas County District Attorney's Office, confirmed the Thursday morning court hearing in which Chatman is expected to win his release.
Since 2001, DNA tests have exonerated at least 30 wrongfully convicted inmates in Texas, the most of any state, according to the Innocence Project, a New York-based legal clinic that seeks to uncover wrongful convictions.
Chatman was 20 when the victim, a young woman in her 20s, picked him from a photo lineup, Moore said. His nearly 27 years in prison for aggravated sexual assault make him the longest-serving inmate in Texas to be freed by DNA evidence, she said.
Mike Ware, who heads the Conviction Integrity Unit in the district attorney's office, said the rape occurred during a break-in at the victim's house.
"I'm not sure why he ended up on that photo spread to begin with," Ware said.
Ware said Chatman would likely be released on a personal recognizance bond until the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals makes an official ruling on his case.
Moore said Chatman applied for DNA testing in 2004 but was told the process could be risky. The only evidence containing DNA was from a vaginal swab of the victim, Moore said, and a single test would consume the entire sample. An inconclusive test would exhaust all evidence.
Chatman was again warned of the gamble when he reapplied for testing early last year.
"This is a guy who's had to face horrible decisions," Moore said.
Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins has started a program in which law students, supervised by the Innocence Project of Texas, are reviewing about 450 cases in which convicts have requested DNA testing to prove their innocence.
One of the inmates helped freed by the Innocence Project, Clay Reed Chabot, is expected to be retried. DNA tests refuted the testimony of a key prosecution witness in the case, but prosecutors say another DNA test did not exonerate Chabot in the murder.
Associated Press Writer Jeff Carlton contributed to this report.