DNA Proves Man's Innocence, 25 Years Later

October 30, 2006

DALLAS, TX --  A man convicted of rape 25 years ago is expected to be freed from prison Tuesday, making him the 10th Dallas County man in five years exonerated by DNA testing.

Officials from the Innocence Project, a New York-based legal clinic that seeks to uncover wrongful convictions, said the number of overturned cases is "unprecedented and troubling." They plan to ask the district attorney's office to investigate whether there is a pattern to the cases.

Larry Fuller, a free man
Larry Fuller, a free man after 25 years
"Quite frankly, 10 exonerations in Dallas County is more than some other states have had," said Vanessa Potkin, an Innocence Project lawyer. "Nowhere else in the country have we had so many wrongful convictions exposed in such a short period of time."

Decorated Vietnam veteran Larry Fuller, now 57, was sentenced in August 1981 to 50 years in prison for aggravated rape. He was released in 1999 but sent back to prison last year for a parole violation, said Eric Ferrero, a spokesman for the Innocence Project.

The Dallas County District Attorney's Office will not contest Fuller's release at the hearing, which is scheduled for Tuesday afternoon in the courtroom of state District Judge Lana McDaniel.

"We have joined in the defense in asking for his release," said Rachel Raya, a spokeswoman for the district attorney.

The validity of eight or nine other convictions in Dallas are being checked through DNA testing, Raya said.

The 10 men freed by DNA testing does not indicate a larger problem or pattern, she said.

"Nine out of 10 of those cases were tried 20 and 25 years ago before DNA testing was regularly utilized," Raya said. "If those cases had happened today, the defendant would have been cleared in the initial investigation."

If Fuller is freed as expected, the 10 men will have served 135 years in prison for crimes they did not commit, according to the Innocence Project. Of them, Billy Wayne Miller served the longest sentence. He was convicted of abducting and sexually assaulting a woman in 1983 and was released after 22 years in prison.

"A lot of those cases relied on eyewitness testimony, and according to the law, one eyewitness is enough,"Raya said.

Innocence Project Co-director Barry Scheck called for Texas to examine why so many convictions have been overturned by DNA evidence.

"Texas needs a statewide mechanism to identify and address the cause of wrongful convictions, but Dallas County can't wait for the state to act," Scheck said in a statement. "These wrongful convictions are like a series of plane crashes at the same airport, in the same era, and they require immediate, serious action."

In Fuller's case, he was convicted after a rape victim misidentified him. In April 1981, a Dallas woman was attacked and raped in her bedroom. When police showed her photographs of potential suspects two days later, she did not identify Fuller, according to the Innocence Project.

Several days later, police showed her a second group of photos. The photograph of Fuller was the only one that appeared in both arrays. Although the victim said her attacker did not have facial hair, and Fuller was pictured with a full beard, she identified him and he was arrested.

Fuller was 32 at the time, raising two children with his girlfriend. Years earlier, as a student at Dallas Baptist College, he was drafted by the Army. He served two tours of duty, volunteering for the second one. He eventually received an Air Medal and an honorable discharge.

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