Associated Press

Wednesday, April 25, 2007
Man's release after DNA exoneration delayed more than 2 years

By The Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS | A man who languished in prison for more than two years after DNA results cleared him of a rape wants an explanation for the paperwork error that kept him behind bars.

Harold Buntin, 38, walked out of prison Friday after 13 years of incarceration for a 1984 rape he did not commit. His release came more than two years after DNA cleared him of that crime.

Although he's elated to finally be free, Buntin said he remains upset and frustrated that misplaced paperwork delayed his release for so long.

"I'm going to move on and take care of my business," he told The Indianapolis Star for a story Tuesday. "But I feel like somebody has to answer for that. I never should have been in jail -- and I spent two more years there after they knew I was innocent."

The Marion County prosecutor agreed to drop all charges against Buntin based on the DNA test results, said Matthew Symons, the prosecutor's spokesman.

At the time Buntin was convicted, DNA testing was not widely used. Prosecutors linked him to the victim because of her testimony and the fact that he had the same blood type as the rapist.

Buntin's mother and two sisters raised more than $4,000 to pay for two DNA analyses -- both of which concluded that he wasn't the person who robbed and raped a 22-year-old clerk at an Indianapolis cleaners in 1984.

In April 2005, a judge exonerated Buntin based on the test results, but the rest of the justice system didn't find out about the decision for two more years. Court officials found that a bailiff or clerk failed to properly enter and distribute the order clearing Buntin.

Because no order was sent to him or his attorney, Buntin remained imprisoned for two more years. The error was only discovered after Buntin and relatives pressed his attorney to file a "lazy judge" complaint because of the delay in the ruling.

Court officials eventually found the judge's original order in Buntin's court file, which had been placed in storage.

Buntin is now one of about 200 convicts in the United States exonerated by DNA evidence since 1989, according to The Innocence Project, an independent nonprofit organization works to free innocent people through use of DNA evidence.

The rape allegation has haunted Buntin since he was 15 and identified by the victim.

Police believed the woman, who previously identified another man, and Buntin was charged with rape and armed robbery. His case went to trial in April 1986 but Buntin, then 17 and scared, fled the state before the trial ended.

Convicted in absentia of rape and robbery, he was sentenced him to 50 years in prison. He began serving that sentence in 1994 after he was arrested in Florida on an unrelated charge.

Now that he's out, Buntin said he's not sure what the future holds for him.

"I still haven't gotten used to it yet," he said.

Buntin's release has brought mixed emotions for his family.

"I'm happy he's finally home, but I'm mad he had to go through all of this to prove his innocence," said his sister, Kim Buntin.

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