In June 1979, in St. Tammany Parish, Louisiana, a white woman saw a black man trying to enter her house. He told her he had been stabbed and asked to be let inside, but when she said she would call the police, he broke her window, cutting himself, and entered her house. He then raped her in her bedroom and fled in a car. The victim called the police and, before she was taken to the hospital, provided police with a description of her attacker and the clothing he had been wearing. The police chief immediately thought of Vernon Chapman, who was black and wore clothing similar to that described by the victim. Police found Chapman at his home. His wife said he had just returned home. His car was still warm, and police found Chapman in bed, with cuts, and a bloody shirt on the floor. The police chief told the victim that they had found her rapist and brought Chapman to the hospital for the victim to identify. The victim identified Chapman as her rapist. At trial, the victim testified, and the prosecution presented evidence showing that the blood found on the victim’s bedspread was type O, the same as Chapman, and the blood found on Chapman’s shirt was type B, the same as that of the victim.
In 1980, a jury found Chapman guilty of rape, and he was sentenced to life in prison. Immediately after the trial, a nurse on duty when the police brought Chapman to the hospital told Chapman’s attorney that the police chief had told the victim prior to her identification that they were bringing in the guilty man and that the victim had immediately expressed doubt about her identification of Chapman. Over 10 years later, Chapman’s wife gained access to his case file, and found a letter from the victim to police expressing doubt about her identification. The letter had never been turned over to the police. In 1994, Chapman’s conviction was overturned, and he was granted a new trial. In August 1994, the prosecution dropped the charges after the victim told them she would not testify and was not opposed to dropping the charges.
- Stephanie Denzel