Associated Press

Judge orders new trial for man who has served 18 years for rape

HARTFORD, Conn. --A man imprisoned for more than 18 years for kidnapping and raping a woman was released Tuesday after new forensic tests showed evidence from the crime did not match his DNA.

James Calvin Tillman, 44, told his family he wanted to take a quiet walk and watch the squirrels play for the first time since 1989, when he was convicted and sentenced to 45 years in prison.

"I thank the Lord," he said as he left Hartford Superior Court. "I was innocent all along, so I just kept my faith and let science be science."

Hartford Superior Court Judge Thomas Miano granted Tillman's request for a new trial and released him on a written promise to return to court July 11.

Prosecutors did not oppose his request for release and will decide whether to pursue the rape and assault charges for a second time. He pleaded not guilty again Tuesday.

Miano said he was troubled by what he called "a judge's nightmare." He said the new DNA tests have "the highest degree of credibility," and that everyone involved wants to act quickly to rectify any injustice.

Tillman was 26, living in a homeless shelter and working at a car wash when he was charged with abducting a woman as she got into her car near a Hartford restaurant, then beating and raping her at a nearby housing project.

He maintained his innocence and rejected a plea bargain that would have given him eight years in prison.

The victim picked out Tillman from a series of photos and he was convicted. Forensic tests at the time showed some similarities between Tillman's DNA and that of the attacker.

But more sophisticated DNA tests conducted earlier this year at the request of the Connecticut Innocence Project categorically ruled out Tillman as the source of the DNA, attorney Brian Carlow said.

The sample also did not match any of the thousands of DNA profiles in Connecticut's database or the millions in the federal database, he said.

No information was released Tuesday about the victim, including whether she still lives in the area or how she reacted to the new information about the case.

"The state is just as anxious as the victim that if the defendant is in fact not the person involved, some justice should be done," Assistant State's Attorney Edward Narus said, although he said the 1989 trial was conducted fairly and with the best evidence available at the time. The conviction was upheld on appeal.

Tillman's younger brother died of a heart condition a few years after Tillman was jailed. His remaining brother, Willie, 45, was not allowed to visit Tillman during the last eight years because of a felony conviction.

"Every day, I was missing my brother and in my heart of all hearts, I knew he didn't do what they said he'd done," Willie Tillman said Tuesday, waiting with family members for his brother's release.

Tillman spent much of his time in prison reading the Bible and talking with other inmates about religion.

His mother, Catherine Martin, visited every week, often driving through rain and heavy snow to the prison, where she and her son sang gospel songs to each other through the clear pane that divided them.

In clothes borrowed from his cousin and his prison-issued sneakers, Tillman finally had a chance Tuesday to embrace his mother, who sobbed and cried out her thanks to Jesus Christ in the court's echoing hallway.

"He didn't give up hope and he wouldn't plead guilty on something he didn't do," Martin said. "He knows God's word, yes he does. He said that's the only thing that got him through the days."

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