March 14, 2014: Sarah Pearce Freed by the Idaho Innocence Project after 12 years in prison.
Pictured with her mom (left) and aunt.
Charles Fain: Idaho Death Row Exoneree who helped inspire the creation of the Idaho Innocence Project
18 years on Idaho’s Death Row
On February 24, 1982, nine-year-old Daralyn Johnson was raped and drowned in Nampa, Idaho. In September 1982, Charles Fain, 34-years-old, was arrested for her rape and murder. Mr. Fain was arrested based on a voluntarily given hair sample. Mr. Fain was convicted, on February 24, 1982. This was based on the testimony of an FBI forensic scientist, who concluded that Fain’s hair was microscopically similar to the pubic hair recovered from Daralyn’s body. It was an accepted forensic test in 1982, but is now considered junk science. In 2000, however, forensic science had advanced exponentially. Mitochondrial DNA tests performed on the hair excluded Mr. Fain as a suspect. Mr. Fain was released in 2001.
Charles Fain’s exoneration helped inspire the creation of the Idaho Innocence Project. Mr. Fain now volunteers with the Project. He has never received compensation from the State.
Death Row Inmate Is Freed After DNA Test Clears Him
BOISE, Idaho, Aug. 23 — Charles Fain has been on death row for almost 18 years for the rape and murder of a 9-year-old girl who was snatched off the street in Nampa, a small town west of here.
But this afternoon, Mr. Fain, 11 days shy of his 53rd birthday, walked out of the maximum security prison here into the blazing sun, a free man. Two hours earlier, a state judge ordered the charges against him dismissed on the basis of DNA tests indicating that hairs found on the girl’s body, which had been used to convict Mr. Fain, were not his.
“Sometimes it looked pretty dark,” Mr. Fain said, but he said he had been confident he would be exonerated. “I’m 100 percent innocent. The day the crime happened, I was sound asleep at my dad’s” house — 360 miles away in Redmond, Ore.
Mr. Fain had difficulty today using the seat belts in the car that drove him away from prison — they were not mandatory when he went to prison — held on tightly when he rode in an elevator to his lawyer’s ninth- floor office and was uneasy walking on thick carpet. “I’m used to walking five steps forward, five steps back, then three steps to the side,” he said, describing life in his cell.
Mr. Fain was convicted of the Feb. 24, 1982, kidnapping, rape and murder of the girl, Daralyn Johnson, after a forensics expert from the Federal Bureau of Investigation said microscopic examination — the standard test at the time — showed three hairs found on the victim’s body were probably Mr. Fain’s.
“Justice requires the action we have taken today,” David L. Young, the Canyon County prosecutor, said today at a news conference in Caldwell, where the case had been tried. “It also requires that we do everything we can to solve this case.”
Mr. Young added, “The killer has not yet been apprehended.”
Today the Johnson family seemed to accept Mr. Fain’s release.
“We would like to say we are in complete support of the judicial system and all those involved in the reinvestigation of this case,” the family said in a statement. “We are confident that we will have closure and that all those involved will be brought to justice.”
At least 96 people have been exonerated and freed from death rows in 22 states since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, a nonprofit group in Washington that opposes capital punishment.
Six death-row inmates were exonerated in the first half of this year, Senator Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, said in June. Mr. Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has sponsored a bill to improve the quality of defense counsel and ensure the availability of DNA testing in capital cases.
The Johnson murder shook the residents of Nampa. The girl had been abducted as she walked to Lincoln Elementary School, then raped; her body was thrown in a ditch near the Snake River. It was not found for several days.
After seven months, the police were stymied. Then they picked up Mr. Fain. A Vietnam veteran who had served with the 101st Airborne, Mr. Fain had difficulty holding a job after his honorable discharge, bouncing between Idaho and Oregon. At the time of his questioning, he was living in Nampa, a block from Daralyn’s house.
His address, and his light-brown hair — similar to that found on Daralyn’s body — were the reasons he was called in for questioning, his appellate lawyers said in one filing.
Mr. Fain was among scores of men asked to give hair samples. An F.B.I. expert concluded that his were similar to those found on Daralyn.
A month later, the police interrogated Mr. Fain for more than two hours, then asked him to take a polygraph test; he agreed.
A state examiner of the test concluded that Mr. Fain was telling the truth when he denied involvement in the rape and murder. At the trial, though, prosecutors objected to introducing the polygraph results as evidence and the judge agreed.
Some of the most damning evidence against Mr. Fain was the testimony of two jailhouse informers. The men gave lurid details of what they said Mr. Fain had told them about what he had done to Daralyn.
It is not clear why the two men gave what now appears to be false testimony. One of Mr. Fain’s appellate lawyers, Spencer McIntyre, said it showed how jailhouse informers manipulate the system, knowing that if they cooperate, the authorities will go easier on them — even without an explicit promise or deal.
One person who always contended Mr. Fain was innocent was Christine Harding, a librarian at the Redmond Public Library. She testified at his trial that in February 1982 he was a regular at the library, though she could not say unequivocally that he was there on Feb. 24.
“Awesome!” an elated Mrs. Harding exclaimed today when told the news in a telephone interview from Garden City, S.D., where she now lives. “Praise God. I just think it’s pathetic so many years of Charles’s life have been taken away from him that can’t be given back.”
But Richard Harris, the original prosecutor, said the DNA test had not shaken his view, citing the testimony of the two informers.
“It doesn’t really change my opinion that much that Fain’s guilty,” Mr. Harris said. “The case was a circumstantial-evidence case. There was a myriad of circumstances that pointed in his direction.”
The trial judge, James Doolittle, also said he had no doubt that Mr. Fain was guilty. “If I had had the slightest doubt, I certainly would not have imposed the death penalty,” said Judge Doolittle, who is retired.
D. Fredrick Hoopes, an Idaho lawyer who has worked on the case for more than a decade, said such reactions reinforced the problems with the death penalty. “We just can’t kill people who we are sure are guilty,” Mr. Hoopes said.
Mr. Fain’s parents died while he was in prison; he did not know where he would live or what he would do now. “One day at a time,” he said at his lawyer’s office. Asked what he would have for dinner, he said, “whatever they put on the tray.” Then, realizing he was not going to be fed by authorities tonight, he said, “I’ll have to start making decisions for myself.”
(Death row inmate Charles Fain, front left, hugs his spiritual advisors Ken Solts, center, and Henry Warren just after being released from death row at the Idaho State Correctional Institution in Boise, Idaho Thursday, Aug. 23, 2001. Fain was released from prison Thursday after DNA tests refuted evidence that he was involved in the 1982 slaying of 9-year-old Daralyn Johnson.)
–Written by Raymond Bonner (August 24, 2001)
Some of the Exonerations Assisted by IIP Director and DNA Expert
Greg Hampikian, Ph. D.
Samuel Scott and Douglas Echols, with the Georgia Innocence Project
15 years and 5 years in prison, respectively
Upon leaving a nightclub in 1986, a young woman was accosted by three men, driven to an unknown neighborhood, forced into a house, and raped. After escaping, she brought the police to the home of Samuel Scott, where Scott and Douglas Echols were arrested. Based on the victim’s identification of them and the house, Scott and Echols were convicted of rape. Testing conducted on behalf of the Innocence Project (NY) in 2001 confirmed that neither Scott nor Echols was involved in the crime.
Clarence Harrison, with the Georgia Innocence Project
18 years in prison
In 1986 a woman was dragged from a bus stop and raped. When the attack was over, her watch was missing. A police investigator, claiming he heard someone at Clarence Harrison’s house was trying to sell a watch, questioned Harrison. He was arrested and identified by the victim. 17 years later, the Georgia Innocence Project discovered one slide from the original rape kit. DNA testing proved Harrison innocent. He was freed in 2004.
Robert Clark, with the Georgia Innocence Project
24 years in prison
After a violent rape in 1981, the victim identified her assailant as about 5’7’ and 120-125 pounds. Subsequently, she saw her car, which her attacker had stolen, and called police, who located the driver, Robert Clark. Even though Clark was over six feet tall, the victim identified him positively as the perpetrator of the rape. In 2005, DNA testing by the Innocence Project (NY) and Georgia Innocence Project proved Clark’s innocence…and pointed to the man from whom Clark had obtained the car. That man was then in prison for another sex crime committed twelve years after Clark’s conviction.
Willie Otis “Pete” Williams, with the Georgia Innocence Project
21 years in prison
In 1985, Pete Williams, 23, a passenger in a car stopped for a traffic violation. The officer thought Williams resembled a sketch of a serial rapist in a nearby neighborhood. Although the string of rapes continued after William’s arrest, he was identified in a photo lineup, convicted, and sentenced to 45 years in prison. In 2007, the Georgia Innocence Project found rape kit swabs that proved his innocence and led to the arrest of Kenneth Wicker, a man who had been identified two decades earlier by Williams’s attorney as the likely perpetrator!
John Jerome White, with the Georgia Innocence Project
12 years in prison
In 1978, a 74-year-old woman was raped and beaten in her home. The room was dark, the victim wasn’t wearing her glasses, and the beating left her face partially paralyzed. Yet she told police, after viewing a lineup weeks later, that she was “almost positive” 19-year-old John White was the rapist. 29 years later, a GIP intern located DNA evidence that established White’s innocence…and pointed to a man who had been in the lineup with White!
Michael Marshall, with the Georgia Innocence Project
2 years in prison
Based on a resemblance to a composite sketch of a carjacking suspect in 2007, Michael Marshall was questioned by police and identified by an eyewitness. Two years later, GIP arranged for testing (incredibly, not previously done by police) of a cellphone and shirt dropped by the perpetrator near the crime scene. That testing not only resulted in Marshall’s exoneration, but led to a man with a history of car-theft convictions.
Raymond Towler, with the Ohio Innocence Project
28 years in prison
In September 1981, Ray Towler was put on trial for the rape, assault, and kidnapping of an 11-year-old girl and her 12-year-old male cousin. A composite sketch was drawn from the victims’ descriptions. Three weeks later, Raymond Towler was stopped for a traffic violation near the park where the attack happened. His resemblance to the composite sketch caused his arrest. His photo was included in a photo line-up and the victims and two witnesses identified him as the perpetrator. At 24 years of age, Mr. Towler was sentenced to life in prison for the assault on the girl and 12 to 40 years for the assault and kidnapping of the boy. It took two rounds of DNA testing, but in 2010 Towler was excluded as the source of the perpetrator’s DNA. His conviction was overturned and he was released in May 2010. On April 25, 2011 Towler was awarded $2.59 million.
Robert Lee Stinson, with the Wisconsin Innocence Project
23 years in prison
Mr. Stinson was released in 2009 after spending 23 years in prison for rape and murder. However, he was not exonerated. That is, until the State of Wisconsin’s efforts in collecting thousands of DNA profile paid off in 2010. The actual perpetrator of the crimes was identified and confessed. The Wisconsin Innocence Project paid a private laboratory to create a DNA profile that could be put into the Wisconsin databank. The profile was matched to 49 year old Moses Price, a convicted rapist and murderer, who confessed. Mr. Stinson was awarded $115,000 in damages in 2010 by the Wisconsin Claims Board.
Anthony Johnson with the Innocence Project of New Orleans
22 years in prison
Anthony Johnson was convicted of murdering his girlfriend in 1986. In 2004 the IPNO won DNA testing for Mr. Johnson. DNA evidence from the case was tested in 2006, and excluded Anthony Johnson and revealed another man’s DNA. Mr. Johnson’s conviction was reversed and he was released in 2007. The State continued to appeal the court’s ruling until 2012. It then compared the DNA samples, and found a match to a serial killer who had gone on to kill two other women after Johnson’s conviction. He was officially exonerated on September 15, 2010.
Four years in an Italian Prison
Amanda Knox was convicted in December 2009 of the 2007 murder of her roommate Meredith Kercher. Dr. Hampikian of the Idaho Innocence Project at Boise State University conducted an independent DNA review that concluded Amanda Knox was not implicated by the DNA, but that Rudy Guede, another suspect prosecuted in Ms. Kercher’s murder, was the true perpetrator. Her conviction was overturned on October 3, 2011. The conviction was reinstated, and she is appealing to the Italian high court.
Dr. Hampikian wrote Exit To Freedom with Calvin Johnson Jr.
16 years in prison
As a 25-year-old college graduate in 1983, Calvin Johnson was mistakenly identified by a rape victim, despite the fact that hair samples from the crime scene didn’t match and he had a solid alibi. He was convicted and sentenced to life plus 15 years. Because he refused to attend sex offender classes, he was denied parole. In 1996, the New York-based Innocence Project arranged for DNA testing that proved Johnson’s innocence; he was released in 1999.