Man imprisoned 28 years cleared in death of college student

By Keith Alexander
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 19, 2009

A D.C. Superior Court judge, acting at the request of the U.S. attorney's office, vacated the sentence of Donald E. Gates, who was wrongfully imprisoned for 28 years in the rape and killing of a Georgetown University student in Rock Creek Park in 1981.

"The court finds by clear and convincing evidence that Mister Gates is actually innocent," Judge Fred B. Ugast wrote in his opinion issued Friday, clearing Gates of all charges.

Gates, now 58, was released Tuesday from an Arizona prison after DNA evidence revealed that he had not committed the crime. The court petition came as prosecutors were preparing to conduct another DNA test, but instead they filed the motion to vacate the convictions based on "actual innocence."

Gates maintained his innocence throughout his 1982 trial and later requested DNA testing to prove that he did not kill Catherine Schilling, 21.

Prosecutors also acknowledged in a letter Friday to Ugast that they had found correspondence alerting them in 1997 to 13 discredited FBI crime analysts, including one whose testimony they had relied on heavily during Gates's trial. Prosecutors previously indicated in court that they had not been told about the analysts, a mistake that Ugast had called "outrageous." Also, prosecutors had relied on testimony from a paid informant who testified that Gates confessed the killing and rape to him.

Gates said Friday that he was with his family but did not wish to say where. "I am experiencing the joy of freedom," Gates said, adding that he thanked "everyone at the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia for working so hard to win my exoneration."

"I thank Judge Ugast for correcting the wrong that was done to me," he said, "and I thank God."

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