Correcting and Preventing Wrongful Convictions in D.C., Maryland and Virginia.

Thomas Haynesworth

Photo by Jay Paul - For The Washington Post

After 27 years of proclaiming his innocence, Thomas Haynesworth was finally released from Greensville Correctional Center on Monday, March 21, the morning of his 46th birthday. However, until he is fully exonerated, he will be not free.

As an 18-year-old boy living in Richmond, he had no criminal record. Rather, he was a music fanatic and family-oriented young man who was picking up sweet potatoes for his mother when he was mistakenly identified as the man who had attacked five women in the area in January and early February of 1984. February 5 marked the 27th anniversary of his wrongful incarceration for three convictions involving rape and sexual assault.

In 2009, DNA testing proved Haynesworth innocent of one of the rapes and also confirmed that Leon Davis — a notorious serial rapist who called himself the Black Ninja — actually committed the crime. Unfortunately, no DNA evidence remained in Haynesworth’s two remaining convictions, but DNA testing in a case where he was acquitted also cleared Haynesworth and implicated Davis, who was charged with a series of rapes occurring between April and December of 1984 and is serving seven life sentences.

After a thorough review of the crimes with its co-counsel at the Innocence Project and Hogan Lovells US LLP, as well as the Commonwealth’s Attorneys in the two jurisdictions where Haynesworth was convicted, it became clear that the two remaining convictions matched the very distinctive modus operandi of Davis. Moreover, the DNA results prove that multiple women mistook Haynesworth for Davis and that Davis was committing rapes in January of 1984. Finally, at the request of the Commonwealth’s Attorneys, Haynesworth took and passed two polygraph examinations about the two remaining convictions.

Based on that compelling evidence of innocence, both Commonwealth’s Attorneys and Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli agreed to support Haynesworth’s petition for Writ of Actual Innocence, which was filed on February 3. And on February 15, the Commonwealth filed an answer to the petitions, asking the court to vacate Haynesworth’s convictions and set him free.

On Friday, March 18, the Virginia Parole Board announced that Gov. McDonnell revisited the possibility of parole for Thomas, which was denied last June, and had requested he be released. Haynesworth walked out of prison just three days later, but with two convictions still remaining, he is far from free. He will remain registered as a sex offender and under strict parole statutes until he is fully exonerated, a harsh reality for a man who lost nearly three decades of his life to wrongful conviction.

Oral arguments in the Virginia Court of Appeals occurred on March 30, and it may take six to eight weeks for a decision to be issued. Having the support of two prosecutors and the attorney general is incredibly unusual, and MAIP is hopeful that the court will take that into account, fully exonerate Haynesworth, and allow him to rebuild his life as the innocent man he is widely known to be.

Haynesworth’s case in the media:

Lawyers seek Haynesworth’s exoneration
Richmond Times-Dispatch – March 31, 2011

Exonerated by DNA, not by Appeals Court
The Washington Post – March 31, 2011

A Free Man; Thomas Haynesworth Talks About False Imprisonment
CBS6 in Richmond – March 30, 2011

Haynesworth seeks exoneration, Judges hear case
NBC12 in Richmond – March 30, 2011

Haynesworth attends appeals hearing on his innocence bid
Richmond Times-Dispatch – March 30, 2011

Wrongly convicted Va man seeks exoneration
The Associated Press – March 30, 2011

Freed Va. Prisoner Seeks Exoneration
NBC Washington – March 30, 2011

Hearing this morning in innocence case
Richmond Times-Dispatch – March 30, 2011

UPDATE: Haynesworth adjusting to life outside of prison
NBC12 in Richmond – March 29, 2011

Virginia Man Freed After Serving 27 Years for Crimes He Didn’t Commit
BET – March 24, 2011

Cuccinelli personally apologizes to Haynesworth for imprisonment
The Washington Post – March 23, 2011

In DNA reprieves, guilt from another source
The Washington Post – March 23, 2011

Thomas E. Haynesworth freed on parole
Richmond Times-Dispatch – March 22, 2011

Exoneration erases only part of the debt
The Washington Post – March 22, 2011

‘He’s home’: Man freed after 27 years in prison
The Washington Post – March 22, 2011

Freedom, at last
The Washington Post – March 22, 2011

After 27 Years In Prison, New DNA Evidence Sets Va. Man Free
The Two-Way: NPR – March 22, 2011

Hogan Lovells Attorneys Help Free Virginia Man Wrongfully Convicted of Rape 27 Years Ago
The BLT: The Blog of LegalTimes – March 22, 2011

After 27 years, Haynesworth released from prison
Richmond Times-Dispatch – March 21, 2011

Man who claims innocence released from Va. prison
The Washington Post – March 21, 2011

Exonerated Va. inmate released on parole
The Associated Press – March 21, 2011

Man freed after 27 years in prison for crime he didn’t commit
NBC12 in Richmond – March 21, 2011

Haynesworth Free, 2 Years After DNA Cleared Him
CBS6 in Richmond – March 21, 2011

Haynesworth granted parole, conditional release
Richmond Times-Dispatch – March 18, 2011

Va. man imprisoned for 27 years gets parole
The Washington Post – March 18, 2011

Next hearing set for man seeking exoneration in attacks
Richmond Times-Dispatch – March 16, 2011

Attorney general supports exoneration plea from inmate
Richmond Times-Dispatch – February 16, 2011

Cuccinelli asks court to free prisoner
The Washington Post – February 15, 2011

Justice has not been served in the case of a 27-year prisoner
The Washington Post – February 13, 2011

Man imprisoned for 27 years hopes that some evidence is enough for freedom
The Washington Post – February 2, 2011

After 27 years in prison, Richmond man nears proof of innocence
Richmond Times-Dispatch – February 2, 2011

Man convicted for multiple sexual assaults could be exonerated
NBC12 in Richmond – February 2, 2011

DNA May Exonerate Richmond Man After 27 Years
CBS6 in Richmond – February 2, 2011

Timeline: Thomas Haynesworth
The Washington Post – February 1, 2011

To learn more, download:

Thomas Haynesworth – Brief in Support of Unopposed Petitions for Writs of Actual Innocence Based on Nonbiological Evidence – February 3, 2011

Thomas Haynesworth – Commonwealth’s Answer to Petitions for Writs of Actual Innocence – February 15, 2011