Innocent man freed after 17 years in jail

A United States man who served nearly 17 years for rape was freed from prison after DNA tests determined he was not responsible for the crime.

Brandon Moon (43) joined his parents, Frank and Shirley Moon, for the drive to their home in Kansas City, Missouri, following his release on Tuesday from the El Paso County jail. He said he feels “numb”.

“Have you ever had novocaine? It’s a lot like that, just from head to toe,” he said.

Moon had been serving a 75-year sentence after his 1988 conviction for sexual assault. The El Paso district attorney and defence lawyers filed a successful joint motion to vacate the conviction.

Nina Morrison, an attorney with the New York-based Innocence Project, said he would be released on $1 bond until his conviction is officially vacated by the state Court of Criminal Appeals.

“My office and the state of Texas, in the interest of truth, recognise the injustice Mr Moon has suffered,” said El Paso County district attorney Jaime Esparza, who did not prosecute Moon.

He may be eligible for compensation from the state of $425 000

(about R2,4-million), or up to $25 000 (about R141 000), for every year of his incarceration.

Moon said he never lost faith when officials wouldn’t listen while he maintained his innocence.

“They’re listening now,” he said.

He said his future plans are not yet set.

“At least in part I’ll continue making belt buckles, which has kind of kept me going over the years,” he said of his silversmith work. “What I’ll be doing other than that, I don’t know.”

The motion to vacate Moon’s conviction was based on recent DNA tests by the Texas department of public safety (DPS), which defence attorneys and Esparza say prove Moon did not commit the April 1987 aggravated sexual assault.

Serologist Glen Adams had testified Moon was among the 15% of the population that could possibly have been the source of semen evidence. Innocence Project lawyers contended the testimony implied Moon was the likely rapist—despite other biological evidence that exonerated him.

“This case shows that the well-documented problems of crime-lab error ... occur all over Texas,” said lawyer Barry Scheck, the Innocence Project co-director. “This is also a classic case where faulty eyewitness identification procedures implicated the wrong man.”

DPS officials disputed that analysis.

“During the original trial, the DPS analyst’s testimony concluded that Brandon Moon could not be eliminated as a suspect,” the agency said in a statement.

The victim identified Moon from a police photo, but told police she couldn’t remember whether her attacker had a moustache or identify the colour of his eyes.—Sapa-AP

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