Nathan Brown, 40, who was convicted of the attempted aggravated rape of a 40-year-old woman in 1997 solely based on her identification, was released from a state prison yesterday after serving 17 years of a 25-year sentence. DNA testing has proved what Brown has claimed all along: He was not the man who attacked the woman as she returned to the Metairie apartment complex where they both lived, his attorneys say.
“I sincerely ask for you to have mercy upon me when the time for sentencing comes,” Brown wrote in December 1997 to then-Judge Walter Rothschild, the month after a Jefferson Parish jury convicted him. “I understand what I’ve been accused of, but I’m not the man who did this (horrendous) crime. I live a clean and honest life, providing for my daughter and helping my family out.”
Attorney Vanessa Potkin of the Innocence Project in New York, filed papers in the 24th judicial District Court in Gretna on Tuesday, saying DNA testing clears Brown. She asked Judge Ray Steib to vacate the sentence and order his release. Brown was at least the 15th person exonerated by DNA evidence in Louisiana since 1999.
The Jefferson Parish district attorney’s office declined to comment, too. But according to court records, District Attorney Paul Connick Jr. did not oppose the Innocence Project’s request to test evidence for DNA.
Brown’s attorneys asked for the DNA testing last year. Prosecutors did not oppose the testing, and Steib ordered it to be done on Dec. 16, court records show. The company that performed the testing, Orchid Cellmark, excluded Brown “as the source of the male biological material that was testing,” Potkin wrote.
“Additional testing has identified the source of the biological material as a specific known individual other than Nathan Brown,” she wrote. “Because Nathan Brown is not the source of the male biological material that was tested, he was established by clear and convincing evidence that he is factually innocent of the attempted aggravated rape for which he was convicted.”
The crime happened Aug. 7, 1997, at an Apollo Street apartment complex in Metairie where the woman and Brown lived, according to court documents. The woman was returning home when she was assaulted in a courtyard. A struggle ensued, and she escaped.
The woman told the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office that her attacker fled out from the complex. But a security guard directed deputies to Brown’s apartment, because he had been previously questioned in connection with peeping tom incidents. He was in bed, with his infant daughter, when deputies took him into custody an hour after the crime.
Deputies brought Brown to the woman at the scene. She identified him as the attacker, and Brown was arrested. During the trial, she testified that her attacker had strong body odor, but Brown smelled like soap when deputies asked her to identify him an hour later. She testified she supposed that Brown must have showered after he attacked her, his attorneys say.
Brown continually denied being the attacker and told the jury as much during his trial. He said he was caring for his infant daughter at the time. Four of the five people who were in the apartment backed his alibi, according to the Innocence Project.
While the attacker left a shoe behind at the scene of the crime, deputies did not find its mate in Brown’s apartment. Nor did they find any evidence that linked Brown to the crime, including physical injury that would have occurred during the struggle, the attorneys said.
In their request to test evidence for DNA filed in court in December, Brown’s attorneys said that in addition to leaving a shoe behind, the attacker viciously tore the woman’s dress and bit her, increasing the likelihood that he left skin cells and saliva behind. The attacker also bit the woman, she said.
Court records suggest that only the woman’s green dress was tested for DNA. Court records to not identify who the DNA found on the dress implicates. Brown is at least the third convicted rapist in recent years to be exonerated by DNA evidence and help from the Innocence Project.
In 2012, a New Orleans judge ordered Darrin Hill’s release from a state mental hospital where he was confined for 20 years for a rape he did not commit. The Innocence Project and New Orleans District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro asked a judge to vacate the conviction.
In 2011, Henry James of Westwego, was released from prison after 30 years at Angola, for a rape he did not commit. The Innocence Project New Orleans picked up his case and proved his innocence through DNA testing. In that case, prosecutors and the Innocence Project attorneys asked a Jefferson Parish judge to vacate the conviction and sentence. Connick’s office then dismissed the case.
article by Paul Purpura via nola.com