Columbus Dispatch

DNA test throws doubt on child-rape conviction
Friday,  November 21, 2008 8:35 PM
By Geoff Dutton and Mike Wagner


New lab tests show that DNA recovered from the semen-stained underwear of a 12-year-old rape victim couldn't have come from the man who has served more than 27 years in prison for the crime.

Raymond Towler has maintained his innocence for nearly three decades, insisting he wasn't the man who abducted two young children from a Cleveland park on May 24, 1981. He wrote letters to lawyers, judges, lawmakers and the media.

"They've always said, 'Do you have more evidence?'" Towler said in an interview at the Grafton Correctional Institution. "Now, I have it."
Raymond Towler
Photo by Shari Lewis/Dispatch
Raymond Towler
Towler, 51, smiled and gave a thumbs-up as he was led back to his cell after receiving the news.

His lawyers with the Ohio Innocence Project say the results prove Towler's innocence.

Cuyahoga County prosecutors, in a court filing last week, called such a conclusion "premature and potentially misleading at this time."

The brief doesn't elaborate, and prosecutors didn't immediately respond today to requests for comment. But one possible complication is that the DNA testing on the victim's underwear found genetic material from two men, even though everyone agreed there was one attacker.

That means another man must have had contact with the underwear before or after the attack. Prior to testing, prosecutors reported to Judge Eileen Gallagher that the underwear was in a sealed plastic bag in a box of evidence at the courthouse, but added that they couldn't vouch for how it had been stored or maintained over the years.

Towler has no prior felony convictions. He is serving a sentence of 12 years to life for rape, felonious assault and kidnapping for the abduction and rape.

Towler was one of 30 convicts highlighted by The Dispatch as prime candidates for testing in "Test of Convictions," a series of articles in January about the missed opportunities of inmate DNA testing in Ohio. The newspaper reviewed the cases with the Ohio Innocence Project, and the DNA Diagnostics Center, a Cincinnati-area lab, agreed to provide free testing.

Robert McClendon of Columbus, another inmate highlighted by the series, was freed in August after serving 18 years for a child rape that DNA testing showed he didn't commit.

Innocent Imprisoned
Truth in Justice