DNA Exonerates Man Jailed in 1984

 By JIM SUHR
Associated Press Writer

ST. LOUIS (AP) -- Preliminary DNA tests on evidence once believed destroyed has exonerated a man imprisoned in 1984 for raping a college student, a prosecutor said.

Prosecutor Jennifer Joyce said she plans to file court papers to free Larry Johnson, 47, serving a life sentence plus 30 years for rape, sodomy, kidnapping and robbery.

"My heart just goes out to Mr. Johnson," said Joyce, who had no role in his conviction. "Mr. Johnson has been horribly wronged. Absolutely, there is no way I can ever make this up to him."

Joyce said Friday that the preliminary DNA results have been sent back to the same police crime lab for confirmation, though "I'm confident the results are not going to change."

Joyce also plans to ask St. Louis police to reopen the case involving the rape of a 20-year-old Saint Louis University student.

Johnson was in prison and not available for comment. His St. Louis attorney did not immediately return telephone messages.

Joyce said the rape victim, after being told of the DNA results clearing Johnson, was feeling "a variety of emotions."

Prosecutors had thought evidence from Johnson's case was destroyed but in February a pipe burst at the Municipal Courts building and workers found bags from Johnson's case that included a rape kit, Joyce said.

The victim had identified Johnson as her attacker and there was other circumstantial evidence that helped convict him, Joyce said.

Barry Scheck, co-founder of the New York-based Innocence Project, had pushed for the DNA tests. He did not immediately return telephone messages Saturday. The decade-old Innocence Project has used DNA testing to free more than 100 inmates nationwide.

A Missouri law, effective since August 2001, lets convicted rapists seek new DNA tests if the technology wasn't available at the time of their trial.



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