On the evening of July 24, 1985, an unknown man knocked on the door of a woman’s Garland, Texas, house, asking for someone who did not live there. He left immediately. The next morning at 6 a.m., the woman awoke to a man standing above her bed holding a knife from her kitchen to her throat. He had apparently entered the apartment from an unlocked sliding door on the balcony of her second-floor apartment. He raped her and fled the apartment.
The victim called the police, and after they arrived she began receiving strange phone calls. She believed the calls were coming from her rapist because she claimed that she recognized his voice immediately. The man on the phone said that he lived in her apartment complex and had been watching her before he climbed a tree into her apartment. He called several times over the following days and the victim worked with police to record the calls.
Investigation and Identification
The victim described her attacker to the police as blond, slim and very tan, 5’8”, 140 pounds and dressed in light-colored pants with no shirt. Shortly after the attack, she worked with police to create a composite drawing of the perpetrator’s appearance. David Shawn Pope became a suspect after a police officer saw him in the apartment complex about a month after the crime and arrested him for driving without a license and insurance. Another officer believed he resembled the victim’s description of the perpetrator.
Police showed the victim individual photos on two or three occasions during the month after the attack, asking if the photo was of the perpetrator – she did not identify anyone. On August 28, after Pope became a suspect, police included his photo in a six-photo lineup shown to the victim. She told them she wasn’t sure if the perpetrator was included. Thirty minutes later, police presented the victim with the same six people in a live lineup. She identified Pope as the attacker in this lineup.
Pope was brought to trial on February 4, 1986. A local police officer testified that he had seen Pope walking through the apartment complex where the crime occurred on the morning of August 28. Pope explained that he had previously lived in the complex and had been evicted a month before. He said he was there to take a shower at the complex gym on the day he was arrested.
Another officer thought that Pope resembled the description of the rape suspect. In a search of Pope’s car, police found white pants that were similar to the ones the victim described her rapist as wearing. They also found a knife that resembled the one stolen from the victim’s kitchen and used to threaten her during the attack.
The victim identified Pope in the courtroom as her attacker, and testified about the live lineup procedure in which she identified him a month after the crime. She testified that he was the most tan person in the lineup and had the lightest hair. She also said that police asked her to sit and think about her identification for a half hour because it was important that she “make a definite statement.” At the end of the half hour, she told officers she was sure it was him.
Prosecutors presented as evidence several voicemails allegedly left by the attacker on the victim’s answering machine in the weeks after the crime. The man said he had attended Eastfield Community College, and at one point said he was 20 years old;, at another point he said 24. Prosecutors argued that these connected Pope to the crime because he attended a college in the same “community college system” as Eastfield and he was 24 years old.
Prosecutors also used “voice print analysis” to argue that Pope’s voice matched the voice in messages left on the victim’s answering machine in the weeks after the crime. Larry Howe Williams, a Houston Police Officer, presented the jury with a comparison of the recorded calls to the victim and a tape recording of Pope’s voice. He claimed that they matched because the sound waves made similar patterns on a paper drum. Williams testified that he was certified to conduct voice print analysis following a two-week course and two years of on-the-job training. Williams was asked: “The bottom line analysis on the known voice and the unknown voice in this situation were only made by one single person in the whole wide world?” and he replied: “Exactly.” The defense called an expert on voice analysis who confirmed that “voice spectrographic analysis” was not scientific and couldn’t determine an exact match between human voices. Read a transcript of Williams’ testimony and learn more about unvalidated and unreliable forensic practices as a cause of wrongful conviction.
Pope maintained his innocence throughout the trial. He explained that during the month of the attack, he occasionally lived out of his car on the grounds of that same apartment complex. He also clarified that the knife found in his car was with lots of other utensils and household goods that he had brought with him when he was evicted from his apartment. As for the white pants, he said he bought them at a garage sale without trying them on, and they did not even fit him (he demonstrated to the jury that the pants were far too small). He presented evidence that he was at a movie with a friend on the night of the attack and then the two slept at Pope’s friend’s parents’ house.
After a very short deliberation, the jury found Pope guilty of aggravated sexual assault, and he was sentenced to 45 years in prison.
Post-Conviction and Exoneration
In January 1999, the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office received an anonymous call that supported Pope’s claim of innocence. Upon receiving this tip, the prosecution reopened Pope’s case and ran DNA tests on the rape kit. The results matched a convicted rapist, and excluded Pope as the perpetrator. Pope was pardoned by Governor Rick Perry on February 2, 2001 after spending 15 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. Pope became the first person exonerated through DNA testing in Dallas County. As of 2012, Pope had received $557,000 in state compensation.