Tuesday, September 16, 2008

After 26 years in prison, DNA clears Dallas man of rape

Sept. 15, 2008

Jeff Carlton-Houston Chronicle-Houston, TX

A man who has spent nearly 26 years in prison for rape is likely to be freed after a DNA test showed he is innocent, his lawyer said Monday.

Dallas County Public Defender Michelle Moore said a hearing has been scheduled for Friday for Johnnie Earl Lindsey, who was convicted of the 1981 aggravated rape of a Dallas woman. If a judge recommends overturning the conviction, Lindsey would walk out a free man.

"He is real excited but very scared," Moore said. "He said: 'Michelle, I don't have anything. I don't even have clothes. I don't know what I will do.'"

Lindsey, now 56, maintained his innocence and produced time cards at his trial showing he was at work at a dry cleaners when the assault occurred, Moore said.

Lindsey, who had a prior conviction for aggravated robbery, became a suspect in the rape of a woman near White Rock Lake after pleading guilty to attempted rape in a separate case, a legal maneuver Moore said "was a business decision" to avoid a lengthy sentence.

Police then included his picture in a photo lineup mailed to the White Rock Lake victim about a year after she was assaulted. The woman was raped by a shirtless man, and Lindsey was one of two shirtless men among the six photos.

He was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.

Moore said the conviction was based on eyewitness misidentification and questioned why police would take the unusual step of mailing a photo lineup to a victim.

"Oh yeah, we don't do that," she said.

The office of Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins, who has earned national acclaim for examining wrongful convictions since taking office in January 2007, confirmed the Friday hearing but declined to comment on the case.

At the behest of Dallas police, the DA's office is conducting last-minute testing on a pubic hair found at the scene to make sure it did not come from Lindsey, Moore said. She said she does not expect it to implicate her client.

If exonerated, Lindsey would be the 20th Dallas County man proven innocence by DNA testing since 2001. Moore said Lindsey told her he sent six letters requesting DNA testing and never received an answer until Watkins took office.

Dallas radio station KRLD first reported that Lindsey may be freed.

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