For 27 years, Thomas Haynesworth sat in prison, learning auto mechanics, welding, and masonry … and fighting to clear his name. That fight paid off yesterday, when a Virginia appeals court declared him innocent, acknowledging that he did not commit the three rapes of which he was convicted in 1984. Throughout his ordeal, Haynesworth maintained he had been mistakenly identified by one of the victims while walking to the market one afternoon when he was 18 years old. DNA evidence ultimately cleared him of two of the rapes in which he was a suspect, but no physical evidence existed for his remaining conviction or a fourth case in which he'd been acquitted.
His exoneration marks the first time Virginia has issued a "writ of actual innocence" for a rape case without certain DNA evidence, the Washington Post notes. Haynesworth had Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, two state prosecutors, and even one of the victims on his side. His attorneys suspect another convicted rapist, who was a DNA match for the two rapes that were re-investigated, actually committed the crimes; he is already serving a life sentence. Haynesworth's exoneration is "a blessing," he says. "There are a lot of people behind the scenes who believed in me. Twenty-seven years, I never gave up. I kept pushing. I ain’t give up hope."