Goldsboro News Argus

August 29, 2007

Dail has always said he was not guilty
by Matthew Whittle

Dwayne Allen Dail always said he was innocent. He always said he was not the man who raped a 12-year-old girl in September 1987.

And his family believed him. They knew the man they loved could not be guilty of that crime.

But perhaps even more important for Dail, the legal team at the nonprofit N.C. Center for Actual Innocence believed him.
It was their investigation that made his Tuesday morning release from prison possible.

"He claimed innocence at his trial, and claimed innocence at his sentencing," said Chris Mumma, Dail's attorney and the center's director. "He never stopped claiming his innocence to anyone who would listen."

Dwayne Dail
Dwayne Allen Dail hugs his attorney Chris Mumma at the Wayne County Courthouse in Goldsboro after his conviction was set aside by Wayne County Superior Court Judge Jack Hooks Jr.
In 2000, the year the center was formally established, Dail wrote asking for help.

In 2001, the center officially took up his case, asking three different innocence projects to examine the facts over a three- to four-year period. At the time, Ms. Mumma said, it seemed as though Dail wouldn't get a second chance.

"All of them came to the same conclusion. It was a terrible case, and they believed he was innocent, but that there was no evidence -- that it was all destroyed," she said.

The center's attempts to contact the victim and her family also ended in failure.

But, Ms. Mumma said, they couldn't just drop Dail's case.

"It was one of those cases we felt strongly about. We just kept making phone calls, hoping something would turn up, and sure enough, it did," she said.

The problem, she explained, is that they were simply not convinced by the evidence presented at the trial.

According to News-Argus reports from the 1989 trial, even though the victim pointed to Dail in the courtroom, she described her attacker as having shoulder-length light brown hair and a beard.

At the time of the attack, Dail and others testified that his hair was bleached and cut in a "Billy Idol" style, and that he was incapable of growing anything more than patchy facial hair.

"When an identification has that much weight at a trial, you have a concern," she said, adding that of the 206 cases nationwide that have been overturned based on DNA evidence, 75 percent involved misidentification.

The only other piece of evidence entered into the case also centered on Dail's hair -- a strand found at the scene that was determined to be "microscopically consistent" with his.

All that meant, Ms. Mumma explained, was that under a microscope, the hair's color, texture and other characteristics were similar.

"It's not even considered scientific anymore," she said. "That 'science' has been replaced by mitochondrial DNA tests."

Additionally, she said, the hair "matching" his, was vacuumed out of a rug that the victim's mother bought used.

"That hair could have come from anywhere," she said.

But, she continued, to the center, the strongest indication of Dail's innocence was his willingness to go to trial, despite being offered a plea bargain.

"He was told that if he pleaded to indecent liberties, he would likely get three years probation," Ms. Mumma said. "He turned that down, and that's a very strong indicator of innocence."

It wasn't until July, though, that everything began falling into place for them to prove Dail wasn't the rapist.

Once the Goldsboro Police Department located the box of evidence holding the stained nightgown, she said, everything started moving -- especially once the State Bureau of Investigation returned with the lab results on Monday.

"Once there was evidence of innocence, we needed to move quickly. There was no need for him to spend another night in prison," Ms. Mumma said.

She said Dail's exoneration never would have been possible without a little bit of luck and a lot of cooperation.

"This is a very unique case of cooperation between the defense, the prosecutor and the state lab. It doesn't happen often, but it should happen all the time. I think justice was done," she said.

Now that Dail has been exonerated and declared innocent, Ms. Mumma will be assisting him in filing for compensation for his years behind bars.

According to state statutes, he is eligible to receive $20,000 for each of his 18 years in prison, plus a pro-rated amount for the additional five months. There have not, she said, been any discussions about a lawsuit.

-- Staff Writer Nick Hiltunen contributed to this report.

Recent Cases
Eyewitness ID

Truth in Justice