Wilbert Thomas
Huntington, West Virginia

Rape conviction should be overturned, magistrate says

April 30, 1999

By The Associated Press

HUNTINGTON -- A federal magistrate has recommended that the rape conviction of a Huntington man imprisoned since 1987 be overturned because new genetic evidence exonerates him and a State Police trooper lied on the stand.

 Wilbert Thomas was tried three times in Cabell Circuit Court before he was convicted in 1990 for assaulting a 19-year-old Marshall University student. He was sentenced to 15 to 25 years for sexual assault and one to 15 years for burglary.

 U.S. Magistrate Jerry Hogg this week said Trooper Howard Myers never performed a certain serology test which he testified linked Thomas to the crime.

 Myers admitted the State Police serology lab followed policy established by discredited former chemist Fred Zain to report nonexistent test results, Hogg found.

 The state Supreme Court in 1993 ruled Zain fabricated or misrepresented evidence in several cases.

 About a dozen people convicted on Zain's testimony have been released or given chances for new trials. The state has awarded more than $4 million in cases that involved him. Zain, who left West Virginia in 1989, was never convicted of criminal activity.

 In Thomas' case, Zain tampered with the semen evidence from the victim's nightgown. New DNA tests show Thomas could not have committed the crime, Hogg said.

 Also, the judge said the jury in the first trial acquitted Thomas on the sexual assault charge even though a circuit judge officially recorded the jury as hung and declared a mistrial on that charge.

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