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DNA Testing Frees Baltimore Man Jailed 20 Years

Bernard Webster was found guilty of a 1982 rape. Technology proved his innocence.

November 08, 2002|From Associated Press

TOWSON, Md. — A judge ordered the release Thursday of a Baltimore man who has spent 20 years in prison for a rape that DNA tests show he didn't commit.

"I'm just happy to be out," said Bernard Webster, 40, waving to reporters as he walked out of Circuit Court for Baltimore County a free man. He declined to say more.

"There's nothing that anyone can say to justify what happened in this case," said Circuit Judge Christian Kahl, who ordered Webster's release. "Justice moves slow at times, and in your case, it moved very, very slow."

Webster was 19 when a 47-year-old teacher identified him as the man who broke into her Towson home and raped her in 1982.

Webster had been set for release in February. He wasn't entitled to compensation from the state for his time in prison, his lawyers said, and he is without a family, job or home.

"To go in at 19 with a 10th-grade education and then compound that with 20 years in prison -- it's unfathomable. I don't see how you deal with this as a person," Public Defender Stephen Harris said.

Webster was the third person in Maryland and the 115th nationwide to have a conviction overturned by DNA evidence, according to the nonprofit Innocence Project in New York City.

The victim told The Sun in Baltimore on Wednesday she was upset by the turn in the case.

"You can't imagine it, you just can't," she said.

Webster became a suspect because police had arrested him in Towson months earlier in the theft of a pocketbook, according to court papers.

At trial, defense attorneys presented two witnesses who said they saw Webster playing basketball that day miles from the rape scene. But two workers at the victim's apartment complex said they had seen Webster around the building that day, and the victim picked him out of a photo lineup.

Webster maintained his innocence, and the public defender's office took another look at his case as part of a project to see whether new DNA tests could exonerate any prisoners.

DNA evidence taken from the victim hours after the attack was tested, and results sent to the defender's office last month showed the semen wasn't Webster's. Last week, the prosecutors' office got the same results from its own testing.

"We didn't have this technology 20 years ago," said John Cox, an assistant state's attorney. "Our intention has always been to seek justice, and once this came to our attention, we moved as fast as we could."

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