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Man freed after 27 years in prison for crimes he didn't commit

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By Maria Glod
Tuesday, March 22, 2011; 3:14 PM

RICHMOND - After spending 27 years in prison for rapes and attacks prosecutors now say he did not commit, Thomas Haynesworth started a new life as a free man Monday.

At his mother's cozy bungalow, where a spare bedroom has always waited for him, Haynesworth ate the Chinese takeout he had been craving - chicken fried rice for lunch. For the first time in his life, he placed a call on a cellphone. Two nieces he had just met crawled into his lap as he relaxed on a recliner in the living room.

It was his 46th birthday, and he was finally home.

"I'm just going to sit here and relax and spend time with my mother," Haynesworth said.

Haynesworth was an 18-year-old high school dropout when was arrested as he walked to the market to buy sweet potatoes and bread for Sunday dinner. He told police they had the wrong man.

Now, nearly three decades later, Virginia Attorney General Ken T. Cuccinelli II and two prosecutors say they believe he was telling the truth. DNA and other evidence, they say, point to another attacker.

Haynesworth has his freedom, but he is still fighting to clear his name. He was released after Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) asked the parole board to review his case. The state of Virginia is supporting Haynesworth's bid to have the Virginia Court of Appeals issue a "Writ of Actual Innocence."

"I believe in Mr. Haynesworth's innocence, and I will continue to work toward a complete vindication," Cuccinelli said in a written statement.

Haynesworth said he will continue fighting for exoneration. He thinks the court "will see the truth," he said.

But Monday was about celebrating and starting anew.

About 11:20 a.m., Haynesworth, wearing khaki pants and a button-down shirt, walked out of the Greensville Correctional Center in Jarratt carrying his television and a single garbage bag that held the rest of his belongings.

"He's home," his mother, Dolores Haynesworth, said as she tucked her arm around her son. "It's still hard to believe. I'm holding him, but it's still hard to believe."


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