John Kenneth Watkins was wrongfully convicted of rape when he was 20 years old and sentenced to 14 years in prison. New DNA testing obtained last year by the Arizona Justice Project at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law proved that Watkins did not commit the rape.
The victim of the Gilbert, Arizona rape initially said that she couldn’t make an identification because she hadn’t gotten a good look at the perpetrator. The one detail she could remember was that the assailant wore a white shirt. However, when police showed the victim a photo array including Watkins (the only lineup member wearing a white shirt), the victim identified him. Officers did not verify Watkins’ alibi that he was at home with his parents at the time of the crime.
After being subjected to police questioning for more than four hours while detectives fed Watkins non-public details about the crime, Watkins confessed. Prosecutors offered Watkins a plea, and facing a lengthy prison sentence, he decided to accept it.
As DNA testing grew more advanced over the years, Watkins asked the courts for post-conviction testing twice, but he was denied both times. In 2009, attorneys were finally granted permission to test the rape kit and the results confirmed that Watkins was not the perpetrator. Sexual assault charges against Watkins were dismissed on December 14, 2010, and he was released after nearly seven years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit.