Saturday, December 12, 2009

DNA evidence could free man in prison for 35 years

James Bain's mother, 77 years old Sarah Reed, speaks to the media at an afternoon press conference.

He was sentenced to life in prison in the rape of a Lake Wales boy, but James Bain always said he was innocent.

Now, 35 years later, new DNA evidence backs up the inmate's claim.

The results show that Bain's DNA does not match any samples on the victim's underwear, according to a report released Wednesday by the Ohio-based DNA Diagnostics Center.

"I always knew I was innocent," Bain, now 54, said in a news release. "I've been waiting well over half my life for this miracle. I hope to be back with my family real soon."

Attorneys for Bain, and the Innocence Project of Florida which took on the case, say they are working to free Bain from the Okeechobee Correctional Institution and reunite him with his family by Christmas.

A motion for a post-conviction release will be filed within the next couple of days, Bain's attorney, Bob Young, said.

The Innocence Project screens and investigates cases with strong evidence – typically biological evidence – that a person has been wrongly imprisoned, executive director Seth Miller said.

Bain was 19 years old when he was convicted of rape, kidnapping and breaking and entering.

"Thirty-five years of his life is gone and we'll never get that back," his sister, Jacqueline Bain, said at a news conference in Bartow this afternoon. "But we're here for him. He's going to be alright."

Polk County State Attorney's Office spokesman Chip Thullbery said his agency has received the DNA test results and is reviewing the facts of the case.

"We simply want to do the right thing," Thullbery said. "We're not going to rush to judgment."

Prosecutors may ask a different lab to run another test, he said.

Court records show that the victim, then 9, remembers falling asleep on a bed with his siblings on the night of March 4, 1974. The boy said he didn't recall being taken out of his mother's Lake Wales home but awoke to see a man dragging him by the arm.

The man took him past a baseball diamond and stopped on a dirt road, the boy said. The man slapped him, forced him to the ground and raped him.

The man ran off and the boy wandered back to his house wearing only a T-shirt and jockey underwear.

The boy said his attacker had bushy sideburns and a mustache. The victim's uncle, a former assistant principal, said the description sounded like Bain, whom the uncle knew when Bain was a student at the local high school, court records show.

Detectives showed the boy photographs of possible suspects, including Bain. Detectives did not ask the victim to identify the attacker and instead asked him if "I can pick out Jimmy Bain," the boy said in his deposition.

Court records show that police denied asking that question and said they simply showed the victim five photographs and that the boy pointed to Bain's.

Police went to Bain's home that night and arrested him. His sister Jannie Bain testified that she and her brother were watching television during the time the boy was raped.

At the trial, the jury heard conflicting testimony about blood samples taken into evidence and rejected Bain's alibi in favor of the boy's eyewitness identification, Young said.

Bain has filed motions for DNA testing since 2001 but was denied each time. The Polk state attorney's office agreed to the testing in October.

The key piece of evidence—the boy's underwear—had been stored for more than three decades at the Polk County Clerk of the Circuit Court yet the DNA samples had not degraded, Young said.

Since 2003, the Innocence Project has helped exonerate 245 inmates nationwide through DNA evidence. Out of that number, Bain has served his sentence the longest, Miller said.


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