Then the two walked back to work.
“I’ll see you up there,” Cuccinelli told Haynesworth as he might any other colleague heading back to the grind.
The relationship between Virginia’s top law enforcement official and parolee is an unlikely one, born of one of the state’s most extraordinary legal cases. Cuccinelli, a law-and-order conservative Republican is a former state senator from Fairfax County who is known as a political bulldog. Haynesworth, 46, is a high school dropout who was arrested at 18.
“He’s an extraordinary guy,” Haynesworth said of Cuccinelli. “A total stranger put it on the line for me.”
When DNA exonerated Haynesworth in two sexual assaults, Cuccinelli was so moved that he invited him in for a personal apology. That meeting led to a job offer. Then Tuesday, Cuccinelli argued before the court.
“This case has kept many prosecutors from going to bed at night,” Cuccinelli said. “It’s a real wake-up call. Not to say things need to be changed, but that this could happen.”
Haynesworth was released from prison in March after serving 27 years in a string of rapes and assaults that prosecutors now believe were committed by another man. Although DNA evidence cleared him in two cases, there is no DNA to test in the other two.
Cuccinelli is pushing the court to exonerate Haynesworth in those, too.
The appeals court will make its decision on a Writ of Actual Innocence in the coming weeks or months. If the court sides with Haynesworth, it would be a landmark ruling: Only one other convict has been exonerated in such a case with no DNA evidence.
Although he is free, without that official exoneration, Haynesworth remains a convicted sex offender and his photo is on the state sex offender registry. Cuccinelli said he knew it would be tough for Haynesworth to get a job as a convicted felon. So the month after Haynesworth left prison, he put him on the state payroll.
The relationship between the prosecutor and the parolee has surprised some because of the reputation Cuccinelli has cultivated.
“People perceive Cuccinelli as a hard-right figure on a number of issues,” said Mark Rozell, a George Mason University political scientist. “They don’t tend to see him as having a soft side.”
Cuccinelli said he sees no conflict between his support for Haynesworth and his politics. “The proper conservative is careful about the exercise of government power — even judicial power,” he said.
For his part, Haynesworth said he is grateful that Cuccinelli gave him an opportunity to work and begin to rebuild his life. He said he plans to stay there for a while but hopes to eventually strike out on his own and start a business as a car mechanic.