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DNA sets free D.C. man imprisoned in 1981 student slaying

Prosecutors said authorities had relied on more than testimony about hair when they asked a jury to convict Gates. A government-paid informant who said he knew Gates from the five years Gates lived in the District in the early 1980s testified that Gates confessed to him. Gates told attorneys that he had never heard of the witness.

Another witness testified that Gates tried to rob her just days before Schilling was killed and in the same place.

Ugast, who is a former chief judge and is now on senior status, oversaw the Gates trial in 1982. A jury found Gates guilty of felony murder while armed, and Ugast sentenced him to 20 years to life.

In 1988, Gates wrote Ugast from prison asking the judge to order a DNA test. He even promised to pay for the test himself. Ugast granted the test. But at the time, genetic testing was less reliable, and the results were not conclusive.

Then in late 2007, as his former court-appointed attorney, Roger Durban, was preparing to retire, Durban wrote Ugast asking him to order another DNA test if Gates was still alive. Durban sent a copy of the letter to the District's Public Defender Service.

At the hearing, Ugast asked Assistant U.S. Attorney Joan Draper why it took so long for prosecutors to look into the case. "We began looking into it as soon as it was brought to our attention," Draper said.

Draper said the government would provide Gates with winter clothes, $75 and a bus ticket to Ohio, where he has family. Gates's adviser, University of Arizona law professor Andy Silverman, who met him at the bus terminal, said Gates had to pay $35 for a cab ride from the prison to the Greyhound station.

At the hearing, Gates's attorney, Sandra K. Levick, asked that he receive more financial help. "Mr. Gates is a victim here. We ask the U.S. to use more resources beyond this pittance so Mr. Gates can get on with his life," she said.

Another hearing was scheduled for Dec. 23, at which prosecutors will review all the DNA testing to determine whether Gates should be exonerated and be released from having to register as a sex offender.

One of Gates's friends, Ricardo Nesbitt, who attended the hearing, said he never thought that his friend could have raped and killed anyone. "I knew he wasn't the one," said Nesbitt, who used to play basketball with Gates on the public courts on Seventh Street NW and worked with him unloading trucks.

Gates "just wouldn't do anything like that. He deserves more than $75."

Staff researcher Magda Jean-Louis contributed to this report.

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