Louisiana man exonerated of rape crime after 30 years in prison

Liz Goodwin
October 21, 2011

Henry James maintained his innocence all during the 30 years he's spent in Angola prison in Louisiana after he was convicted for the rape of his neighbor. Today, he will finally walk free, his conviction overturned by a Jefferson Parish judge.

A jury convicted James in 1982 after his neighbor picked him out of a lineup as the man who raped her. The Innocence Project, a nonprofit group that works to exonerate falsely convicted inmates, says the woman had earlier told police that she didn't know or recognize her attacker. James argued that she did know him, and that he had contact with both the victim and the her husband. His lawyers also produced three witnesses to back up his alibi, but James was still sent to prison at the age of 20 with a life sentence.

The Innocence Project tried to find DNA evidence from the rape in order to test it and confirm whether James was innocent. But the original evidence had been lost. It wasn't until May of last year that a lab tech accidentally stumbled upon a slide of evidence while researching a different case. The ensuing DNA testing excluded James as the rapist.

"His first request was that we take him to get some jumbo shrimp; so that's what we'll be eating for dinner," Jene O'Keefe Trigg, director of The Innocence Project New Orleans, told the AP.

Since 2000, 206 prisoners have been exonerated using DNA testing, a technology that wasn't available until 1989. In 75 percent of those cases, eyewitness identification was used to convict the accused, according to the Innocence Project.

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