Thursday 27 January 2011

Dallas man imprisoned decades for rape likely to go free after DNA evidence casts doubt on guilt

A 60-year-old man is expected to walk out of a Dallas County courtroom today — nearly 25 years after he was convicted of a rape that may not have happened.
Larry Sims was sentenced to a quarter-century in prison for sexually assaulting a female acquaintance. But DNA testing now casts doubt on details of the woman’s testimony, undermining her accusation of rape.
Sims’ attorney, Michelle Moore, said state District Judge Gracie Lewis is expected to release Sims on bond because any jury hearing the case would be unlikely to convict Sims.
But the Dallas County district attorney’s office said Sims is not joining the ranks of the county’s 21 DNA exonerations.
At least not today. And maybe never.
Prosecutor Mike Ware, who oversees the district attorney’s conviction integrity unit, said more investigation is needed before prosecutors determine whether they believe Sims is innocent.
“We scrutinize these cases very closely,” Ware said.
Moore said she has no doubts that Sims was wrongly convicted. She said she will soon file paperwork that could lead to an official exoneration.
“I’m calling it an exoneration,” she said. “She just flat out lied.”
In the county’s 21 DNA-related exonerations and in three other exoneration cases that did not involve genetic evidence, there is no doubt that a crime occurred. The wrong men were arrested, convicted and sentenced.
But in this case, it’s possible no crime occurred.
The woman who accused Sims could not be located. She is not being named because there has been no determination she committed a crime. The Dallas Morning News does not typically name victims or possible victims of sex crimes.
At the 1986 trial, prosecutors under then-District Attorney Henry Wade told Sims’ attorney, Russ Henrichs, that there was no physical evidence to test in the case, court records show. Even though DNA was not used then, testing for blood type was common.
Sims was on parole for a few months in 2009 before being sent back to prison for not meeting a curfew and problems with his leg monitor. But while free, he contacted Moore about his case. He then wrote to the court asking about DNA testing and Moore was assigned to his case.
Despite the claim that it did not exist, DNA evidence was located at the Dallas County crime lab on one of the woman’s sanitary napkins, according to court records.
It was not clear Wednesday why the district attorney’s office said decades earlier that there was no testable evidence. The original prosecutor in the case, George McElroy, could not be reached for comment. Henrichs said he did not recall the case.
Moore said DNA from semen found in the newly tested sample matches a cousin of Sims.
The night of the alleged rape, Sims, his cousin Gerald Harding, the woman who accused Sims and another woman met at Sims’ motel room.
Harding testified at the trial that he had consensual sex with the woman the night she alleged that Sims raped her. The accuser and Harding smoked crack that night, court records show.
But the woman testified that no sex occurred between her and Harding. Harding, who could not be reached for comment, testified that the woman told him she would drop the rape charge in exchange for drugs.
Moore said the fact that Harding and the accuser did have sex raises questions about all of the woman’s testimony.
Court records show that Sims hit the woman and may have tried to throw her over the balcony and attempted to choke her with a lamp cord. But it’s not clear whether any of those events actually happened because the rape itself is now in question. Sims did admit to hitting the woman, records show.
Because Sims is not being exonerated, he will still have to register as a sex offender and is not eligible for any services or funds that the state gives to the wrongly convicted.
Moore said that Sims has a tooth infection in the Dallas County Jail and is not feeling well. A dentist has agreed to give Sims free dental work after his release.
“He’s not feeling good physically,” Moore said. “But he’s excited to get out.”
Moore said that Sims has aunts and cousins who live in the area. His mother died two decades ago.
Sims has previously pleaded guilty to two aggravated assault charges and several theft charges. He pleaded not guilty in the rape case before being convicted and sentenced by a judge.
People who lie on the witness stand commit perjury. But the statute of limitations for any criminal offense by Sims’ accuser would have passed long ago.

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