|Date / Location:||July 1982, Maryland||Conviction:||Breaking and entering, rape|
|Year of Conviction:||30 years||Release Date:||1983|
|Sentence:||November 7, 2002||Sentence Served:||20 years|
|Real perpetrator found?:||Not yet||Contributing cause to wrongful conviction:||Witness misidentifiaction, DNA evidence later excluded him|
On November 7, 2002, Bernard Webster became the first person to be exonerated under a new Maryland DNA law, after spending twenty years in prison for a break-in and rape he did not commit.
In July 1982, a 47-year-old schoolteacher came home to her Towson apartment in the middle of the afternoon. She heard a rustling in her closet, and when she walked into her bedroom, a black man jumped out and attacked her. The victim told the jury that the man put what he said was a gun to her back, covered her head with a bathrobe, forced her onto the bed, and raped her.
Bernard Webster, who was nineteen at the time, became a suspect because the Baltimore County police had arrested him months earlier for stealing a purse. Other residents of the victim’s apartment complex then picked him out of a photo lineup as a man they’d seen around the complex that day. The victim picked him out of a photo lineup as the man who attacked her. Though the defense presented two witnesses who told the jury that they’d seen Webster playing basketball that day, miles away from the crime scene, and despite questionable forensics declaring that Webster’s blood matched the blood found on the bedspread (this contradicted an earlier report), Webster was found guilty in 1983 and sentenced to thirty years in prison.
From prison, Webster continued contacting the Maryland public defender office, but there was little the attorneys could do for him until the advent of DNA testing. Finally, in 2000, the office took on his case to help him prove his innocence, and in 2001, Webster filed his own petition for DNA testing. That year, a new law was enacted in Maryland, allowing judges to order DNA testing for people serving sentences for rape or murder when testing could prove their innocence. Though the Baltimore County state’s attorney’s office asked the court to deny the motion, Judge Christian Kahl allowed the testing to go forward.
Testing was performed on three slides found at the hospital where the victim was treated twenty years prior. The results excluded Webster as the contributor of the spermatozoa, and in November 2002, his sentence was vacated. Bernard Webster was 40 years old when he left prison, becoming the 3rd person in Maryland and the 115th nationwide to have his conviction overturned by DNA evidence.
After exoneration, Webster was awarded $900,000 in compensation – $45,000 for each year he wrongfully spent in prison.