In November 2001, a masked man wearing a blue hooded sweatshirt and carrying a baseball bat burst into a home in Las Vegas, Nevada, where he confronted a woman and her two young children. He took $23 from her and then forced her to drive him to an automated teller machine in an attempt to obtain more cash.
However, he fled from the machine when the woman’s husband spotted them.
Police were called and spotted Dewayne Jackson, 18, and his cousin, Howard Dupree Grissom, 15, riding bicycles past the victim’s home.
Police trailed them to a nearby residence and found a blue hooded sweatshirt and a ski mask inside a car parked there.
Grissom and Jackson were questioned and denied involvement, but when DNA testing linked the sweatshirt and ski mask to Jackson, he was charged with robbery and kidnapping. Grissom was not charged.
Faced with the DNA evidence and a potential life prison sentence, Jackson pleaded guilty in 2003 and was released in 2006 after serving nearly three years in prison.
Two years later, in 2008, Grissom was arrested by Las Vegas police on charges of robbery and conspiracy to commit a violent crime. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to two to five years in prison. As required, he provided a DNA sample, which was sent to the local police crime lab, but not—as was then done by most states in American—to the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS), the FBI’s massive database that contains DNA profiles of convicted offenders as well from unsolved crimes.
In 2010, Grissom was released from parole and headed to California.
Less than three months later, on July 27, 2010, a woman in Moreno Valley, California, was abducted from her apartment and taken to an alley where she was raped and stabbed several times.
Based on a statement from the victim, police went to an apartment nearby and arrested Grissom. Grissom went to trial, was convicted of attempted manslaughter and was sentenced to 41 years to life in prison.
When Grissom entered prison in California, he provided a DNA sample and the resulting profile was submitted to the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) where the profile matched the DNA profile obtained from the blue hooded sweatshirt and ski mask in the Jackson case.
In October, 2010, California authorities noted the link to the 2001 case and notified Las Vegas authorities. When they looked up the case, they discovered that Jackson had been convicted. A subsequent investigation revealed that when Jackson and
Grissom supplied their DNA for testing back in 2001, their samples had been swapped by mistake.
In May 2011, police notified Clark County District Attorney Roger, who then informed Jackson’s attorney.
On July 7, 2011, authorities announced that Jackson had been exonerated and his case records sealed.
“We sent an innocent man to prison,” Clark County Sheriff Doug Gillespie said. “To say this error is regrettable would be an understatement.”
On July 25, the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department agreed to pay $1.5 million in compensation to Jackson.
The department also changed its policy regarding submission of DNA profiles—all profiles are now submitted to CODIS.
The city also contracted with two independent DNA testing firms to conduct a review of about 330 DNA cases handled by the crime lab from 1997 through 2004.
– Maurice Possley