Freed Man Still Fighting to Clear Name
Monday, June 5, 2006
This is how the story typically goes: A man is wrongly convicted of two rapes he did not commit. He spends years behind bars before DNA evidence exonerates him and he is released. Soon afterward, he receives a governor's pardon.
That's not how Arthur Lee Whitfield's story goes.
Virginia authorities released Whitfield on parole in August 2004 when a Norfolk prosecutor said DNA evidence proved Whitfield did not commit the two rapes for which he had served 22 years in prison. Since then, Whitfield, 51, has tried to clear his name in the official record, seeking remedies in court. In December he requested a pardon from Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D).
But there's a hitch: A victim in one of the rape cases is still adamant that Whitfield raped her, and she is trying to persuade the governor not to issue a pardon in her case.
It's been 25 years since she identified Whitfield as her attacker, but the victim says her memory of the man who raped her in Norfolk on Aug. 14, 1981, has not faded. He was a tall, muscular, light-skinned black man with hazel eyes, the same man she and a victim in a separate attack that night would later point to as Whitfield in police lineups and at trial. She also remembers just as clearly the day, years later, when she learned Whitfield had been released because authorities said DNA evidence exonerated him.
"I knew exactly what DNA was and how important it is, but in my case the first words out of my mouth were: 'There's been a mistake,' " she said.
She knows that the forensic science of yesterday is not the sophisticated and exact science of today. But the victim, whose name is being withheld because The Washington Post generally does not name the victims of sexual assaults, says she is convinced that the state forensic lab mixed up evidence.
She questions whether state authorities have done all their homework on Mary Jane Burton, the former state crime lab scientist. Burton was the original analyst on her case and the scientist whose work at the lab sparked a recent wave of exonerations and prompted former Gov. Mark R. Warner to order a review of hundreds of cases.
The victim contends that Burton, now dead, might have accidentally swapped a sample from her rape kit with the evidence from the other rape, which occurred two blocks away the same day. When the victim examined her case file two decades later, she found that samples from the second rape had been kept in the same folder. She said a blood sample identified as hers in the file differs from her actual blood type. The discrepancy, she argues, points to the possibility that Whitfield was her assailant, while another man raped the other victim. In a letter to Kaine, she asked the governor to make sure evidence in her case is retested.
"My attacker must not be allowed to deny his guilt because someone misfiled evidence more than 20 years ago. Arthur Lee Whitfield committed a terrible crime, and justice requires that he not escape responsibility for his actions," she wrote.
The victim's claim has been a serious obstacle in Whitfield's years-long quest to prove his innocence. Although legal and scientific experts agree that DNA evidence points to Aaron Doxie III as the rapist in the two 1981 Norfolk rapes, Whitfield's conviction is still on the books and he is considered a sex offender by the state. He must regularly report to a parole officer. Meanwhile, his bid to persuade the Virginia Supreme Court to declare him innocent failed in October -- the court said it had no jurisdiction over the case because he was no longer incarcerated.
The court's ruling means a pardon is the only option for Whitfield to clear his name.