Exonerations for a Wrongful Conviction of Sexual Assault
August 10, 2012
The National Registry on Exonerations has analyzed information on 873 exonerations in the United States during the period 1989-2012. It is the largest such analysis ever done. Thirty-five percent of the exonerations involved persons wrongfully convicted of rape and other sexual assaults. These convictions included persons wrongfully convicted of sexual assault of an adult (203 persons) or child (102 persons) (Table 1).
Among the 203 persons wrongfully convicted of sexual assault of an adult, the contributing factors were the following (note that more than one contributing factor can play a role in a given case) (Table 13):
• Mistaken witness identification: 80%
• False or misleading forensic evidence: 37%
• Perjury or false accusation: 23%
• Official misconduct: 18%
• False confession: 8%
Of the 49 men convicted of sexual assault of an adult based on a false accusation or perjury:
• Nine were handed life sentences
• They served an average of 10.7 years before the exoneration
These are two examples of false allegations leading to a false conviction of sexual assault:
In August 1998, Regina Birindelli of Auburn, Washington told police that she had been raped by three men in May of that year. In December 1998, Mark Clark and Jeff Schmieder were convicted of first-degree rape. On May 20, 1999, charges against both men were dismissed after a defense investigator proved that Birindelli was in jail on the day she claimed to have been abducted, handcuffed and repeatedly raped and sodomized.
In 1977, in a suburb of Chicago, 16-year-old Cathleen Crowell faked a rape because she was afraid she had become pregnant by her boyfriend. In the course of the investigation that followed, she picked Gary Dotson’s picture out of a photo lineup and said he was the rapist. Dotson was sentenced to 25 to 50 years in prison. In 1985 Crowell, by then married and living in New Hampshire, recanted and told prosecutors that she had lied. Despite the recantation, it took until 1989 to clear Dotson, after the first post-conviction DNA testing in a rape exoneration in the United States showed that the semen in the rape kit collected from Crowell did not come from Dotson, but could have come from her boyfriend.