Stella Reeves, Bain’s mother, speaks at a press conference last week.
By TOM STAIK
Wednesday, December 16, 2009 11:24 AM EST
Freedom from a lifetime behind bars may be less than 24 hours away for Lake Wales native James Bain. Acting on new DNA evidence that has seemingly exonerated Bain in the 1974 rape of a Lake Wales 9-year-old, state justice officials have scheduled a hearing before Judge James A. Yancey for Thursday morning at the Polk County Courthouse in Bartow.
“The motion will be to release (Bain) pending the conclusion of proceedings,” a senior official at the District X Office of the State Attorney told the Lake Wales News Tuesday afternoon.
The Polk County Courthouse confirmed a motion is scheduled to be heard before Judge Yancey at 9 a.m. Thursday. They would not confirm the nature of the motion.
Innocence Project of Florida (a public advocacy group that championed the DNA testing on behalf of Bain) said they are pleased with the timeliness of Thursday’s hearing. It comes just one week after the new DNA evidence was made public.
“We are very pleased that the state attorney has been so diligent in working closely with the public defender and the Innocence Project to get James Bain home as soon as possible,” said Seth Miller, executive director of the Innocence Project of Florida, by phone to the Lake Wales News on Tuesday.
Bain was convicted of taking a 9-year-old boy from bed – leaving the boy’s also sleeping brother and sister behind – and raping him in a field near his Lake Wales home on March 4, 1974. The boy woke and was raped after being ordered to take off his pants. He returned home wearing underwear, secured by law enforcement at the time, that contained semen.
The victim described his attacker as a young man between 17 or 18 with a mustache, beard, and sideburns.
According to Seth Miller, executive director of the Innocence Project, the victim’s uncle, an assistant principal at Lake Wales High School, led the boy to believe the description sounded like Bain. Investigators too, Miller asserts, led the victim to identify Bain by asking him to pick out “Jimmie” Bain, not his attacker.
The Innocence Project was unsuccessful in its first four petitions to have DNA testing ordered on the semen in the victim’s underwear.
According to the advocacy group, witness misidentification and faulty forensics are two of the leading causes of wrongful convictions. Witness misidentification contributed to nearly 80 percent of the 245 wrongful convictions later overturned by DNA testing nationwide. If cleared, the Lake Wales man would have served longer than any of the other 245 persons nationwide who’ve seen their convictions overturned after DNA testing.
The local case may also be the catalyst for the state to create a special panel that could review such situations. That story can be found on page 17.