Former inmate on death row sues
Former death-row inmate Earl Washington Jr. is suing Fauquier County, Culpeper and state investigators, charging they sent him to death row when there was abundant evidence he was innocent.
The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Charlottesville yesterday, alleges his constitutional rights were violated by law-enforcement officers involved in the investigation of the 1982 rape and capital murder of Rebecca Williams in Culpeper.
Washington's lawyers also accuse Culpeper Commonwealth's Attorney Gary Close of defamation for stating to the media that he continued to believe Washington is guilty after Washington had been pardoned.
Washington came within days of being executed and spent 9½ years on death row. He was cleared of the crime by a DNA test in 2000. Then-Gov. Jim Gilmore granted Washington an absolute pardon.
"Earl Washington Jr.'s ordeal was not a tragic mistake, but the result of a concerted effort by law enforcement officers . . . to convict him for these brutal crimes despite the total absence of credible evidence against him," the suit alleges.
The suit was filed late yesterday, and Close could not be reached for comment. Close did not prosecute Washington; a prior commonwealth's attorney, John C. Bennett, did.
At least two of the named defendants, former Culpeper Police Chief Charles Jones and former Fauquier County Sheriff Luther Cox, are deceased, said authorities in each jurisdiction. Investigators for both departments as well as the state police also were named as defendants.
The suit claims that they arrested, charged and prosecuted Washington while hiding or ignoring evidence that suggested he was innocent, ignoring leads that went elsewhere, and failed to conduct forensic tests that would have cleared him.
"Even after the DNA exonera- tion and the absolute pardon, the chief of police in the Town of Culpeper and the prosecutor of Culpeper County continued to defame Mr. Washington publicly claiming that he had in fact committed the sexual assault and murder," the suit says.
The suit alleges that "the bad faith in this saga by law enforcement is so extraordinary, that although the Virginia Division of Forensic Science eventually secured a DNA match between the semen stains found at the crime scene and a convicted rapist currently serving time in a Virginia prison, no charges have been filed and he has not been officially identified for fear that to do so would constitute an acknowledgment that Earl Washington Jr. is innocent."
Washington was arrested in nearby Fauquier County nearly a year after the Williams slaying for an unrelated assault. Once arrested, he confessed to four other crimes, including the Williams murder. It was later determined he could not have committed the three other crimes.
However, the suit alleges Fauquier investigators asked him leading questions that included details of the crime when questioning him about the Williams case.
Investigators would not produce additional hair samples from Washington for testing, as requested by the state lab, because investigators allegedly knew they would not match hair found at the crime scene, the suit claims.
Police also knew that at least one of nine other suspects in the case had a blood type that was consistent with the rapist's and that his facial hairs "were consistent" with those found at the scene, the suit says.
Peter Neufeld, one of Washington's lawyers, said an informed source told him the inmate whose DNA was found to match DNA at the crime scene was not incarcerated at the time of the slaying, that he lived in the vicinity of Williams and that he was a black man with a beard, matching the description Williams gave before she died of 38 stab wounds.
Though pardoned for the murder by Gilmore, Washington was not released from prison until last year because of the unrelated assault conviction.
In pardoning Washington, Gilmore, a former prosecutor, said that had a jury known of the test results, its verdict would have been different. He did not say the tests proved Washington innocent.
The lawsuit seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.
Contact Frank Green at (804) 649-6340 or email@example.com