Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Dwayne Dail is free after DNA test shows he spent 18 years in jail for a rape he didn't commit

On Monday, August 27, 2007, Dwayne Dail spent his last night in prison. He was released from custody on August 28, 2007, after a state court judge agreed to vacate his conviction and dismiss all charges against him. He was 39 when released and had served 18 years in prison.

Excerpts from the Innocence Project

On September 4, 1987, a man crawled through the window of a Goldsboro, North Carolina, apartment and raped a 12-year-old girl living there. The girl identified Dwayne Allen Dail as her attacker and he was charged with burglary, rape and other related charged. Hairs collected from the crime scene were submitted for forensic testing and an expert found that Dail’s hairs were microscopically consistent with the evidence from the crime.

Dail reportedly turned down an offer to plead guilty in exchange for three years of probation, and he went to trial in 1989. . . . He was sentenced to two terms of life in prison plus 15 years.

In 2001, the Innocence Project became involved, but was initially told that all evidence had been destroyed. A second request yielded the young girl's nightgown.

Officials at the Wayne County District Attorney’s Office agreed to send the evidence for DNA testing, and semen was discovered on the victim’s nightgown. The DNA profile from the semen did not match Dail, proving he was not the man who attacked the victim in 1987.

The News & Observer has a very good, thorough article on Dail, including a few videos. Here are just a few excerpts:

"I was an innocent kid and got snatched out of my life and thrown into another with dangerous people," Dail said, whispering over the table at a pizza parlor an hour after being released. "I was scared. I was accused of doing something so far out of character, something so disgusting."

He headed off to prison a slight young man whose girlfriend was expecting their first son. On Tuesday, he hugged his boy, Chris Michaels, for the first time outside a prison.

"He's missed my whole life," Michaels said. "I'm almost 18 now. I'm grown. I missed him all the time growing up. He's here now, and that's all that matters."

And what effect has the exoneration had on the victim and the people who got him convicted?

"If it's not him, well, I guess I've been living like I'm safe because the DNA says it's not him," she said. She came to court to watch a judge exonerate Dail but left without entering the courthouse after seeing a cluster of TV cameras outside. The News & Observer does not typically identify people who say they have been sexually abused.

It must be so very hard for victims to realize, after so many years, that the person they identified was not the person who committed the terrible crime against them. I can't even imagine how that must feel. This, I believe, is one of the horrors of wrongful convictions that the general public doesn't see -- the impact on the victim when the convicted person is exonerated.

Dail's freedom has cast a dark shadow over Goldsboro police and the Wayne County District Attorney's Office. The new DNA evidence forced them to realize a child rapist could be on the loose. They have reopened the case.

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