Another man free because of DNA testing

Posted: April 17, 2008 in Headlines, Prison, The Brothas

DNA frees man who spent almost 23 years in prison for rape

By JEFF CARLTON, Associated Press Writer

DALLAS – After spending nearly 23 years in prison for a rape he did not commit, Thomas Clifford McGowan on Wednesday heard the words that set him free

“Words cannot express how sorry I am for the last 23 years,” said state District Judge Susan Hawk, moments after overturning his convictions. “I believe you can walk out of here a free man.”

McGowan, 49, won his freedom after a DNA test this month proved what he had always professed: that he did not rape a Dallas-area woman in 1985 and then burglarize her apartment. He was convicted of both crimes in separate trials in 1985 and 1986 and sentenced to life each time. The primary evidence against him turned out to be misidentification by the rape victim.

“I’ve been living a life of a living hell and my nightmare is finally over with,” McGowan said after the hearing. “This is the first day of my life. I’m going to go forward.”

Hawk’s ruling, which now must be affirmed by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, makes McGowan the 17th Dallas man since 2001 to have his conviction cast aside because of DNA testing. That’s the most of any county in the nation, according to the Innocence Project, a New York-based legal center that specializes in overturning wrongful convictions.

Overall, 31 people have been formally exonerated through DNA testing in Texas, also a national high. That does not include McGowan and at least two others whose exonerations will not become official until Gov. Rick Perry grants pardons or the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals issues its rulings.

[…]

McGowan’s wrongful imprisonment began in May 1985 when a Richardson woman returned home and came upon a burglar in her apartment. The man bound her hands with his belt, raped her at knifepoint and then loaded his car with several items stolen from her apartment, according to court documents.

Police eventually presented the woman with a photo array of seven men. She picked out McGowan’s photo, saying she “thought” he was the attacker. But police told her she had to be certain and “couldn’t just think it was him,” she testified in court. It was then that she said McGowan was “definitely” the attacker, according to court documents.

Just a few words from a police officer can significantly influence whether a witness identifies the wrong person, Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck said.

“It’s not that the police officer involved in this matter was intentionally doing anything wrong. He wasn’t,” Scheck said. “That kind of a forced choice response … is very, very damaging.” (more…)

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