Chicago Tribune



Gary, Indiana Man Freed in Decades-Old Gang Rape

by Teresa Auch Schultz and Christin Nance Lazerus

April 25, 2016

Darryl Pinkins

Darryl Pinkins walked outside the Lake County jail Monday morning and into the embrace of a large crowd of family and supporters — a free man after serving more than two decades in prison for a brutal Hammond gang rape new evidence shows he didn't commit.

His grandchildren gathered around him to take what were likely his first smartphone selfies, recording themselves and celebrating his release. His son Dameon Pinkins placed a new watch on his wrist, and he later shared a long hug with his attorney, Frances Watson, who helped free him through the Indiana Innocence Project.

"This is evidence God does exist," the 63-year-old Pinkins said. "God is always there."

Pinkins was convicted in 1991 in a headline-grabbing case in which a Hammond woman was raped by five men. The case was referred to as a car-bump rape because the assailants intentionally crashed into the rear of her car, near 165th and Parrish Avenue in Hammond, then attacked her when she got out to inspect the damage.

The Dec. 7, 1989 rape spawned a rash of car-bumping incidents in which more than 20 women drivers were attacked over a nine-month period.

According to police reports, the woman in Pinkins' case stopped to see if her car was damaged when five assailants abducted and raped her for two hours before she escaped. She had a pair of dirty green coveralls that the men used to cover her face. Police traced the coveralls to Luria Brothers, a slag processor at Bethlehem Steel. Pinkins and another defendant, Roosevelt Glenn, worked there.

Pinkins, Glenn and three other men were arrested for the rape. Charges against two of the defendants were dropped, but Pinkins, Glenn and William Durden stood trial.

Pinkins was convicted in 1991 of rape, deviate sexual conduct and robbery and was sentenced to 65 years in prison. He was set to be released in 2021. Glenn was sentenced to 35 years after an initial trial ended with a hung jury. He was released in 2009 after serving the sentence in full.

Another jury was unable to reach a verdict in Durden's case. The charges were later dismissed.

None of the DNA evidence at the time could be matched to Pinkins, but the victim identified him as one of her attackers and an inmate who shared a cell with him testified Pinkins confessed to the rape.

Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson was with the Lake County's public defender's office and represented Glenn in his case. According to press reports at the time, she said her client was targeted because he was black and said the trial resembled a lynching. Glenn was never identified as one of the assailants by the victim and his semen never matched what was found on the victim.

Pinkins first wrote to the Innocence Project in 1995, four years after he was convicted, asking for help in proving his innocence.

Watson first learned of the case after the Indiana University McKinney Wrongful Conviction Clinic began working with the Innocence Project in 1998. She said the case sounded fishy from the start, noting that Pinkins, who was in his late 30s, married, employed and never been arrested at the time of the rape, did not fit the profile of someone who would commit such a violent crime.

"People don't throw away their lives (for that)," she said.

She and her law students have worked on the case ever since, but serious progress didn't come until the private company Cybergenetics and the invention of new technology called TrueAllele.

Before the technology, investigators couldn't parse out individual DNA samples that had been mixed with others, which is what happened in the rape case. Watson said that officials knew there were two unidentified DNA samples from the woman's clothing but none of it had ever definitively been matched to Pinkins or Glenn.

More than 20 years later, their efforts finally succeeded.

The TrueAllele test found that none of the five DNA samples from the victim's clothing matched either Pinkins' or Glenn's DNA, which Watson says proves their innocence.

The Indiana Court of Appeals granted permission in June to take the case back to Lake County to reconsider the new evidence. A hearing in the case was set for Monday, but Lake County Prosecutor Bernard Carter Jr. announced Friday his office was dropping all charges against Pinkins.

Carter said he's hopeful that the DNA profiles discovered in the recent testing will match people in the FBI's Combined DNA Index System. Because rape is a Class A felony, there's no statute of limitations, Carter said.

"In my opinion, the victim deserves justice," Carter said. "But if a mistake was made, we certainly need to correct the wrong we have done."

At the original trial, the victim was adamant that Pinkins was the assailant, Carter said, and she remains convinced of that notion.

"But we know from the scientific testing that's not the case," Carter said. "We talked to her and she is not going to be in agreement about it. She does not believe that he is innocent."

Carter said Pinkins and his family approached him outside the jail on Monday morning and thanked him.

"I told them that the right thing had to be done," Carter said.

Carter said new ways of testing do provide more clarity in cases, but not every suspect can be cleared by DNA testing.

"We're always welcoming any kind of clarity in cases, but there are not a lot of cases that rely solely on DNA," Carter said.

For Pinkins' son Dameon, his father's release means he will finally get to spend time with his father. Dameon Pinkin said Monday that he and his father weren't in touch when his father was arrested and convicted and that he actually learned about his father's conviction through the news.

Dameon Pinkins, 39, of Merrillville, finally reconnected with his father in 1998, visiting him in prison. He's supported his father's efforts to be released ever since, he said.

"There were times I didn't know if they would let him go," he said. "It was dark at times."

Having the Innocence Project pick up his case gave him confidence that his father's claims were valid, though.

He said his father has done well in spite of his long time in prison.

"He's the strongest man I know," Pinkins' son said.

Watson said she now plans on filing to have Glenn's conviction overturned as the evidence also shows his DNA was not found on the victim.

Freeman-Wilson said Monday that she was happy with the result.

"Of course it's going to take some time before Roosevelt is cleared and his conviction is vacated," Freeman-Wilson said. "But I'm glad that the science has caught up to what we all knew back then, which was these guys were not guilty."

Glenn, who was on hand for Pinkins' release, said that although he had to serve his full sentence, he feels justice has been served by seeing Pinkins walk free.

"That lets me know it's over," Glenn said.

He does look forward to having his own conviction overturned, however, noting that its presence on his record has made life hard for him in Northwest Indiana.

"Being out here living with that is another nightmare," he said.

Some of Watson's students were also on hand for Pinkins' release, and she said it showed that even though the process can last decades, they can still help free people in the end.

"I'm feeling good," Darryl Pinkins said. "I'm feeling loved."

cnance@post-trib.com

tauch@post-trib.com

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