Courier-Journal

Thursday, January 11, 2007
 
DNA clears man who confessed to attack
Suspect lied in hope of release, attorney says

By Jason Riley
jriley@courier-journal.com
The Courier-Journal

Twenty-three times Matthew Fields told the Louisville detective interrogating him that he had nothing to do with an October 2005 break-in and sexual assault of a woman in her Parkridge Parkway home.

But the detective told the 18-year-old that police could prove he did it.

"That evidence is gonna put you right there," Detective Darrell Higdon told Fields, according to a transcript. "… Tell me why you did it. Don't let me come and prove it and then come and grab ya."

Midway through his two-hour interrogation, Fields told the police what they were waiting to hear -- he did it, although much of the information he gave them about the crime was wrong.

For the next year, Fields sat in jail, awaiting trial.

But yesterday, prosecutors asked a Jefferson County judge to dismiss the case, because DNA tests on semen found at the woman's home didn't belong to Fields.

Instead, the semen belonged to a 36-year-old convicted felon, whom police are now looking at as a suspect in the case.

Fields, whose charges of robbery, burglary, kidnapping, attempted rape and sexual abuse were dropped, couldn't be reached for comment yesterday.

In an interview yesterday, defense attorney Rob Eggert said his client confessed because he thought police would let him leave if he told them what they wanted to hear.

"I think he was frightened, he was scared," Eggert said. "And he was under the impression that if he said he did it, he could go home."

The charges might have been dismissed much earlier if authorities hadn't waited months to test the DNA

Although police and prosecutors found no physical evidence tying Fields to the crime, they say he knew specific details of the attack, including the race and physical characteristics of the victim and that she had been tied up.

Because Fields told police he didn't actually have sex with the woman -- saying he was scared to leave behind DNA for investigators -- the victim's panties, semen and other evidence at the scene were not tested.

In fact, the DNA testing wasn't done until Fields' attorneys specifically requested it nearly eight months after his arrest.

"We don't expect the DNA to yield many results," Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Kristi Gray told a judge during a hearing last August, two months after Fields' attorney requested the tests.

Fields' defense attorneys say it was a continuation of the slipshod investigation -- failing to test DNA evidence, coercing a confession and ignoring a lack of evidence -- that wrongly implicated their client.

"All this proof that he did or didn't do this hasn't ever been tested," Eggert told Judge Judith McDonald-Burkman during an August hearing.

Eggert said Fields knew nothing about the crime, telling police once that it had happened in the back of a car, that he had taken $15 when actually more than $1,000 was stolen and not knowing when or where the crime occurred.

"There is no evidence," Eggert told McDonald-Burkman during one hearing. "The whole case is this statement."

Police acknowledged during court hearings last year that they had no evidence against Fields besides his confession. Higdon testified that Fields became a suspect after "some kids" told another officer that Fields had choked a woman during a burglary in the area where the break-in occurred.

Police did not return calls yesterday seeking comment.

Gray defended the investigation yesterday, saying police generally ask a suspect several times and in several different ways about a crime, expecting that the suspect will lie.

"Generally, when someone commits a crime they are not going to raise their hand and volunteer the information," she said.

She said the victim's panties were supposed to be sent off for DNA testing but somehow got left in an evidence room by mistake.

"We were unaware of that," she said.

Eggert said he hoped the person identified in the DNA test would be prosecuted.

"This was a serious crime," he said. "And this person is still at large."

Reporter Jason Riley can be reached at (502) 582-4727.

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