On September 1, 1980, a pregnant woman playing with her infant child was sexually assaulted and robbed in her home in Indian Village, an historic district in Detroit, Michigan.
Semen samples were taken from the victim’s bathrobe and bedspread and Detroit police detective Janice Nobliski interviewed the woman, who described her assailant as a thin man, about 15 to 18 years old and clean-shaven with hair fixed in braids and small poofs.
The victim looked through mug shots, pointing out seven different men with some features that resembled the rapist. Nobliski decided to hold a lineup using the next man the victim pointed out. That man was Walter Swift, who was 21 years old, had short hair, a full mustache and sideburns.
At the lineup, the woman selected Swift.
Nobliski thought the identification was weak, so she scheduled a polygraph for Swift and then went on vacation. When she returned, she learned the polygraph had been cancelled, Swift had been charged and she had been removed from the case.
At trial, the prosecutor told the jury that Swift had been identified after the victim viewed more than 500 mug shots. Swift presented evidence that at the time of the crime he was with a woman he was dating at the time. The woman had shopping receipts that corroborated her trial testimony.
On November 2, 1982, Swift was convicted of first-degree criminal sexual conduct and sentenced to serve 20 to 40 years.
Swift lost his appeals and in 1997 contacted the Innocence Project in New York. The physical evidence had been destroyed, so no DNA tests could be performed. However, Innocence Project investigators discovered that less-sophisticated testing used in 1982 had indicated that Swift was not the rapist.
An analyst who tested the semen determined that if the sample was predominately semen from the perpetrator, Swift could not have been the rapist based on his blood type. That analyst was never called to the stand at Swift’s trial, and was stunned to learn later that Swift had been convicted.
The investigators also discovered that the victim had pointed out seven other men before selecting Swift—evidence that was never passed on to the prosecution or the defense.
Swift’s court-appointed trial attorney, Lawrence R. Greene, failed to adequately pursue the identification procedure during the trial and did not present the exculpatory forensic evidence. Greene was later suspended from practicing law several times based on misconduct and inadequate representation in other cases.
A joint motion filed by the Innocence Project and the prosecution to vacate the conviction and dismiss the case was granted by Wayne County Circuit Judge Vera Massey-Jones on May 21, 2008.
– Maurice Possley