|Date / Location:||November 27, 1980, Norfolk, Virginia||Conviction:||Robbery, Rape, Sodomy|
|Year of Conviction:||Release Date:||20 years|
|Sentence:||December 22, 2005||Sentence Served:||12 years, paroled in 1993|
|Real perpetrator found?:||Not yet||Contributing cause to wrongful conviction:||Witness misidentification, Junk Science, police informants named Davidson as perpetrator|
|Compensation?:||Yes, amount has not been disclosed|
Willie Davidson spent 12 years in prison for a rape he did not commit before a DNA test proved his innocence. Not only did his case help clear his name, but it paved the way for other wrongfully convicted people in Virginia to prove their innocence and win their freedom.
On November 27, 1980, Thanksgiving Day, a 66-year-old Norfolk woman woke up in the middle of the night to find a masked man wearing gloves, a cap and a coat sexually assaulting her.
While being interviewed by police, the victim did not give any indication of knowing her attacker. However, after police informants led police to Willie Davidson, the victim picked him out of a photo lineup, saying he had been at her house the day before her attack. Days later, Davidson was brought to the jail wearing a stocking over his head, where the victim stated that he looked like her attacker. Mistaken witness identification is the leading cause of wrongful convictions.
At trial, a lab analyst testified that semen was found on tissues that the perpetrator used to clean himself after the rape. Serology testing revealed Type O blood on the tissue, the same blood type as the victim. Because Davidson is a nonsecretor, semen and other bodily fluids cannot determine his blood type. The analyst testified that the perpetrator could have only had Type O blood or have been a nonsecretor. This testimony contradicted with known serological truths. In fact, because the victim’s blood could have masked the semen of any perpetrator, no blood type could have been excluded by the tests. This testimony was highly misleading to the jury.
Furthermore, the analyst testified that one pubic hair found on the crime scene was “consistent” with Mr. Davidson’s public hair. Hair examination is not considered a science and is completely based on the physical observations of the analyst.
The victim also testified at trial that she had known Mr. Davidson and his family all his life. Davidson’s family had moved away for many years and she had not seen him again until his family visited the victim’s house the day before the attack.
Despite the weak evidence against him, Davidson was convicted of rape, sodomy and robbery and convicted to 20 years in prison. He was released on parole in 1993 after serving 12 years. As part of his parole, Davidson was forced to register as a sex offender and spend over a decade outside of prison as a convicted rapist.
After Virginia Department of Forensic Science analyst Mary Jane Burton died in 1999, it was discovered that she kept samples of many of the cases she analyzed. In 2001, 2003 and 2004, tests using her samples proved that Marvin Anderson , Julius Earl Ruffin and Arthur Whitfield were all innocent of the crimes they were convicted of.
Thanks in part to the urging of the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project, then Gov. Warner decided to test a random sample of the evidence left behind by Burton. On December 14, 2005, Gov. Warner announced that of the 31 samples tested, two indicated that the wrong man was convicted of the crime: Phillip Thurman and Willie Davidson.
On December 22, 2005, Gov. Warner issued a pardon for both Thurman and Davidson. Davidson was eventually given an undisclosed amount in compensation for his wrongful conviction.
The results of these experimental tests proved that a number of wrongfully convicted people could prove their innocence through the DNA samples that Mary Jane Burton kept. As a result, Gov. Warner began the Old Case Testing Project, which MAIP is helping to coordinate to guarantee that every case sample Burton maintained could be tested.