Thomas Haynesworth was an 18-year-old with no criminal record when he was mistakenly identified as a man who had attacked five women in Richmond, Virginia in 1984. All five victims identified him as their attacker, and he was sentenced to 74 years in prison.
When Haynesworth was in custody, rapes continued in the same neighborhood. At least 10 women reported being attacked by a young African American man, who in some of the crimes referred to himself as “Black Ninja.”
In 2005, then-Governor Mark Warner ordered testing of biological evidence from 1973 through 1988 that was discovered in the files of deceased crime lab analyst Mary Jane Burton.
The biological evidence of in the January 3 rape case for which Haynesworth was convicted was located and submitted for DNA testing.
Haynesworth was excluded, but matched the DNA of Leon Davis. Davis had already been charged for a dozen rapes that occurred in the last nine months of 1984. He was convicted ultimately and sentenced to multiple terms of life in prison.
On September 18, 2009, the Supreme Court of Virginia issued a writ of actual innocence to Haynesworth for the January 3, 1984 rape.
Eyewitness misidentification is the single greatest cause of wrongful convictions nationwide. Research shows that the human mind is not like a tape recorder; we neither record events exactly as we see them, nor recall them like a tape that has been rewound. Instead, witness memory is like any other evidence at a crime scene; it must be preserved carefully and retrieved methodically, or it can be contaminated. [National Registry of Exonerations]