August 20, 2007
During the morning of March 13, 1986, a female worker at the Forbes Hospital was raped. Other employees at the hospital pursued the attacker but he got away.
A short time later, Thomas Doswell was arrested. At his trial he was convicted and sentenced to 13 to 26 years in prison. On four separate occasions he was denied parole because he insisted he was innocent and refused to accept responsibility for the attack.
On Monday August 1, 2005, after serving 19 years, Thomas walked out of prison a free man, not because he finally fessed up to his crime and made parole, but because the courts finally realized he was innocent as he claimed.
It turns out there were a number of irregularities in his case. The victim stated that the man who attacked her had a beard; Thomas did not. Thomas had suffered a neck injury at work and was wearing a neck brace; the witnesses never mentioned that. Of the eight photographs of possible suspects shown to witnesses, only Thomas’ photo was marked with a large “R”, signifying a previous rape conviction, a charge for which Thomas had long since been acquitted. (Under new guidelines this practice will change. Photos presented to witnesses will not be marked and those officers presenting them will themselves be unaware of the identity of the suspect or of the other individuals in the photo lineup.)
But none of these facts were enough to exonerate Thomas Doswell.
Eventually, at the urging of the Innocence Project but against the advice of the prosecuting attorneys, semen specimens collected during the medical examination of the rape victim in 1986 were retested. When it was found that they were not from Thomas Doswell, the prosecutors quickly joined the motion to have the charges vacated.
After his release, Thomas said, “Having the faith I have in Jesus has taught me that I couldn’t walk around for 20 years with anger bottled up in me. It would have killed me. It would have done more damage to me than good.” He also said, “I’m thankful justice has been served. The court system is not perfect, but it works.”
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