In less than one hour on the night of August 14, 1981, two women in Norfolk, Virginia, were raped. Both victims eventually identified Arthur Whitfield as the assailant. In 1982, he was convicted of one of the crimes and pled guilty to the second in order to receive a lighter sentence and have some of the charges dropped. DNA testing in 2004 proved that he was innocent of both crimes.
The first victim was accosted as she got out of her car. The assailant threatened her with a knife, stole her money, and ordered her to undress. The perpetrator raped her and left her there. She then drove to a friend's house and reported the rape.
At trial, she testified that she had several opportunities to view the perpetrator by the light of a streetlight and a spotlight on a nearby house. At the police station, she picked out seven photographs. One of the pictures was Whitfield's. She subsequently identified him from a live lineup.
The second victim was attacked not long after the first. She had exited her car and was accosted, threatened with a knife, and raped.
At trial, the defense argued that Whitfield had been misidentified. Both victims described their attacker as having no facial hair, but Whitfield wore a beard at the time. Whitfield's family testified that he was with them the entire evening. The jury convicted and Whitfield was sentenced to 45 years. He pled guilty to the second crime and received 18 years, to run consecutively to the first sentence, a total of 63 years.
In October 2003, Whitfield filed pro-se under the Virginia statute that governs postconviction DNA testing (passed in 2001). It appeared that the evidence had been destroyed.
In December 2003, however, the state crime laboratory found pieces of evidence taped inside a notebook of the serologist who had originally tested the evidence. Mary Jane Burton had, against laboratory protocol, saved samples from some of the cases she had worked on. In 2001, evidence located in a similar manner had exonerated Marvin Anderson
. In 2003, the evidence Burton saved in Julius Ruffin
's case was tested and exonerated him.
In 2004, the evidence in Whitfield's case was subjected to DNA testing. Whitfield was excluded from the rape kit samples of both victims. The profile obtained from testing indicated that another inmate, already serving life for another sexual assault, was the true perpetrator. Whitfield had served over 22 years in prison for crimes he did not commit.
In 2005, then-Governor Mark Warner ordered testing of biological evidence from 1973 through 1988 that could be found in Burton’s files.
In 2009, the Virginia Legislature awarded Whitfield $633,000 in compensation.