RICHMOND, Va. - The Virginia Supreme Court on Thursday exonerated a James City County man wrongfully convicted of a 1978 rape.
The justices granted a writ of actual innocence to Bennett Barbour, 56. Barbour was convicted of the rape of a 19-year-old College of William and Mary student at an off-campus apartment in Williamsburg.
DNA tests conducted in 2010 on material from the case didn't find Barbour's DNA. The tests identified the DNA of another man, James Moses Glass Jr. Glass was convicted of another 1978 rape in nearby York County and released from prison in 2009.
Barbour was released on parole in 1983. He could not immediately be reached for comment.
His attorney, Matthew Engle of the University of Virginia School of Law's Innocence Project Clinic, said he was pleased with the decision, but that it doesn't make up for the time Barbour was wrongfully accused.
"Given the wealth of evidence that existed in 1978 suggesting that Mr. Barbour was innocent, including three alibi witnesses and blood typing tests that excluded him, he should never have been convicted of this crime in the first place," Engle said in a statement. "While the court's decision today corrects a gross injustice, it cannot make up for the last 34 years."
Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli backed Barbour's request for a writ of actual innocence, and his office asked that the court expedite its review.
Barbour is the latest wrongfully convicted person to clear his name through Virginia's one-of-its-kind post-conviction DNA testing project.
In 2005, five men were cleared thanks to old samples of blood, semen and saliva forensic scientist Mary Jane Burton saved in files from 1973 through 1988 before DNA testing was used. After that, former Gov. Mark Warner ordered all the department's files _ hundreds of thousands of them stacked in storage for decades _ reviewed for evidence that could clear others who had been wrongfully convicted.
Since the DNA project got under way in 2006, the department has identified 800 cases that contained biological evidence and someone was convicted. An outside laboratory is testing the samples, and the department reviews the findings.
Deirdre Enright, another of Barbour's attorneys with the innocence clinic, said his case demonstrates the need for improved eyewitness identification procedures.
"Although Mr. Barbour is finally exonerated," she said, "there will be other men and women wrongfully convicted in Virginia based on incorrect eyewitness identifications, and DNA will not always be present to exonerate them."
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