Man Cleared of Rape After Spending Decades in Prison

by tylercook on January 2, 2013

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David Lee Wiggins, 48, was accused of raping a 14-year-old girl from Fort Worth. In 1989, he was convicted of rape and sentenced to life in prison. A DNA test completed earlier in August found that evidence recovered from the crime scene did not match Wiggins’ DNA, clearing him of the crime.

Victim Identified Wiggins as Perpetrator

The victim was raped by an intruder who broke into her house in Fort Worth. During the sexual assault, he covered her face with a towel. Although she caught glimpses of the perpetrator’s face, she did not get a clear look at him.

Wiggins was convicted of rape even though the fingerprints at the scene of the crime did not match his own. He became a suspect when the victim identified his picture in a photo spread. Wiggins agreed to take part in a police lineup in 1988. Because he was innocent of the crime, Wiggins did not believe he would be picked out of the lineup. However, the victim, whose face had been covered throughout her attack, believed Wiggins looked familiar and pointed him out as the perpetrator.

Although semen was recovered at the crime scene, investigators concluded that the quantity was insufficient to warrant testing. Although Wiggins pressed for DNA testing, his requests were denied.

Attorneys from the Innocence Project began working on Wiggins’ case in 2007. Nina Morrison, one of the Innocence Project attorneys, said that Wiggins was included in the initial photo spread because he was close to the same age and race as the suspect. His appearance somewhat resembled the description of the suspect that the victim was able to provide.

DNA Evidence Exonerates Wiggins

On Friday, August 24, Judge Louis Sturns approved a motion to overturn the conviction and released Wiggins on a personal bond. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals must accept the judge’s recommendation to overturn the conviction before the crime will be removed from Wiggins’ criminal record. Alternatively, the governor could grant a pardon in order to officially clear the conviction from his record. Either option is essentially a formality after the judge’s ruling.

According to the National Registry of Exonerations, 84 people have been exonerated in Texas since 1989. In 2001, Texas passed a law to allow inmates to request post-conviction DNA testing. Since the law was passed, more than 32 people have been exonerated in Tarrant County and Dallas County.

Texas offers compensation to inmates who have been wrongfully convicted. Once Wiggins’ conviction is formally reversed, he will be eligible to receive $80,000 per year.
Morrison said that Wiggins spoke briefly after the judge issued his ruling. Wiggins does not blame the victim and holds no bitterness about the situation.

Joe Shannon, a Tarrant County District Attorney, stated that Wiggins would have been acquitted had DNA testing been available and reliable in 1989. He added that the District Attorney’s office would continue to cooperate with defense attorneys to provide post-conviction DNA testing when appropriate.

After being released from prison, Wiggins ate lunch with approximately 10 former prisoners who had also been exonerated. They attended Wiggins’ hearing to demonstrate their support for him. Wiggins intends to use his experience to help other inmates who have been wrongfully convicted.


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