At left, Thomas Haynesworth in 1984 and
at right, Haynesworth in 2011
Today, we are thrilled to announce the long-awaited exoneration of Innocence Project client Thomas Haynesworth. The Virginia Court of Appeals issued a Writ of Actual Innocence in his case this morning, ending Mr. Haynesworth’s long ordeal. Wrongfully convicted of three Richmond-area crimes in 1984, Mr. Haynesworth served nearly 27 years in prison and over eight months as a registered sex offender. Post-conviction DNA evidence proved his innocence and implicated the real perpetrator, Leon Davis, a serial rapist who was living in Richmond when the crimes occurred.Based on DNA testing and other evidence, Mr. Haynesworth was released from prison earlier this year at the urging of the Innocence Project and the request of Gov. Bob McDonnell. Although he had the support of Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli and the prosecutors from Richmond and Henrico County, he was not officially exonerated. Since his release, Mr. Haynesworth has been under state supervision, unable to leave his mother’s house except to go to his job as an office technician at the Virginia Attorney General’s office.
Mr. Haynesworth’s defense team–the Innocence Project, Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project and Hogan Lovells US LLP–has long argued that Leon Davis committed all three of the crimes for which Haynesworth was convicted. Davis was found guilty of similar rapes and attempted rapes later in 1984. All of the crimes were perpetrated within the same one-mile radius, all targeted the same victim demographic and all followed a similar pattern. DNA testing linked Davis to one of the crimes, but biological evidence in the other two crimes was not available for testing. An extensive investigation, including DNA testing, and an exhaustive review of the evidence and polygraph tests led to the Virginia Court’s decision.
Today, Mr. Haynesworth and his family will greet supporters and speak to the media about his experience. Like so many of the wrongfully convicted, Mr. Haynesworth was misidentified. Five victim witnesses misidentified him–although their descriptions of the perpetrator more closely resembled Leon Davis. Eyewitness misidentification is the leading cause of wrongful convictions later overturned through DNA testing.
Innocence Project social workers will continue to support Mr. Haynesworth as he rebuilds his life. We applaud his courage and determination over these many years and whole-heartedly congratulate him on his exoneration.
The Innocence Project