Convictions based on the evidence of young witnesses or victims in sexual assault cases, can be unreliable in the absence of solid forensic evidence.
This proved to be the case in the conviction of David Lee Wiggins, a man from Fort Worth, Texas, who spent more than two decades behind bars before he was released this month after DNA evidence cleared him of the rape of a 14-year-old girl.
The Houston Chronicle reported on how Wiggins was convicted and jailed for life in 1989 for the offense, although “neither of the two fingerprints found at the scene matched his.”
The evidence in the case seemed flimsy to say the least. The victim picked Wiggins out of a photo lineup and a live lineup, saying he looked familiar, even though her face was covered during most of the attack.
DNA testing carried out in August 2012, excluded Wiggins as the rapist, according to Tarrant County prosecutors.
Two decades is a long time to spend in a jail for a crime you didn’t commit. This case raises the question as to why this DNA testing could not have been done sooner.
Wiggins showed no bitterness after he was freed. But his case highlights how often innocent men and women are jailed for crimes they didn’t commit in Texas.
The evidence of young victims in sexual offenses can be particularly problematic.
Charles Chatman from Dallas, who spent almost 27 years in jail for a rape he did not commit, is providing Wiggins with support and advice after his release. Chatman went before a parole board three times to protests his innocence. The board wanted to hear him admit his guilt. In 2008 DNA evidence proved he wasn’t the rapist.
After Wiggins’ conviction is formally reversed, he’ll be eligible for $80,000 a year in compensation that Texas pays to wrongfully convicted ex-inmates. And it seems a lot of compensation payouts are being made in Texas.
“Wiggins would be the second person to have a conviction overturned by DNA in Tarrant County since 2001. In neighboring Dallas County, more than 30 people have had convictions overturned since 2001,” reported the Houston Chronicle.