From January 3 to February 1, 1984, five women were the victims of sexual assaults or attempted sexual assaults in an area known as East Richmond, which overlaps the city of Richmond, Virginia and Henrico County.
On January 3, a 20-year-old woman was raped at knifepoint in a day-care center where she worked in Richmond.
On January 21, an 18-year-old woman was sodomized at knifepoint near an East Richmond grocery store.
On January 27, a man with a knife approached a woman outside her home and demanded money and sex. When the woman went inside the home, she slammed the door shut and locked it, then called police as the attacker fled.
On January 30, an 18-year-old woman was abducted, raped and sodomized at gunpoint in Henrico County, a few blocks from the other attacks.
On February 1, a 19-year-old woman was abducted at gunpoint outside her home in East Richmond. The gunman forced her to go inside the house, but then fled when the family dog began barking.
Because of the locations of the attacks, description of the attacker and the nature of the assaults, police concluded that one person was responsible.
On February 5, 1985, Thomas Haynesworth, 18, was arrested after the victim of the January 27 attempted robbery saw him walking near a market and told police he was her attacker.
All five victims selected Haynesworth’s photograph when shown photo line-ups.
Haynesworth was tried on four of the crimes in separate trials. The fifth case was dismissed.
On July 12, 1984, he was convicted of the January 3 rape after the woman identified Haynesworth in court. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
He was convicted on August 10, 1984, of the January 30 attack. At trial, the victim identified him and the biological evidence was the same blood type as Haynesworth’s. He was sentenced to 36 years in prison after being convicted of rape, sodomy, abduction with intent to defile and using a firearm in the commission of a crime.
On August 24, 1984, he was acquitted by a jury of the January 21 assault.
He was convicted on October 11, 1984 of the February 1 abduction—again based on the victim’s identification of him—and was sentenced to 28 years in prison.
Although Haynesworth was in custody, rapes continued in the same neighborhood. At least 10 women reported being attacked by a young African American man, who in some of the crimes referred to himself as “Black Ninja.”
Assaults were reported in March and August as well as two assaults in October, three in November and three in December.
On December 19, 1984, police arrested Leon Davis and charged him with a dozen rapes that occurred in the last nine months of 1984. He was convicted ultimately and sentenced to multiple terms of life in prison.
In 2005, then-Governor Mark Warner ordered testing of biological evidence from 1973 through 1988 that was discovered in the files of deceased crime lab analyst Mary Jane Burton. The biological evidence of in the January 3 rape case for which Haynesworth was convicted was located and submitted for DNA testing.
Haynesworth was excluded and matched the DNA of Davis. On September 18, 2009, the Supreme Court of Virginia issued a writ of actual innocence for the January 3, 1984 rape.
Haynesworth enlisted the assistance of The Innocence Project and the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project and requested a review of his other convictions. DNA testing was performed on the case in which Haynesworth was acquitted and the results were similar—Haynesworth was excluded and the DNA matched Davis.
No physical evidence could be located in Haynesworth’s other convictions. After Haynesworth passed two separate polygraph examinations, authorities concluded that Haynesworth was innocent of those as well.
Upon the joint motion of the prosecution and Haynesworth’s lawyers, the convictions were vacated and the charges were dismissed. Haynesworth was released from prison on March 15, 2011.
Prosecutors from the two jurisdictions where the crimes occurred, as well as the attorney general for the commonwealth, Kenneth Cuccinelli, joined with the defense in asking the Court of Appeals of Virginia to grant a writ of innocence in the remaining cases. By then, Haynesworth had been hired to work in Cuccinelli’s office.
Despite the unanimous agreement of the prosecutors and attorney general, the Court of Appeals, in July, asked for further briefing.
On December 6, 2011, the full Court of Appeals granted writs of innocence in both cases. Four appeals judges dissented, contending that sufficient evidence—the victims’ identifications of Haynesworth—still existed that could result in a conviction. They construed the state law regarding writs of innocence was very narrow and did not allow writs to be granted in such cases.
Appeals Judge Larry Elder wrote, “Haynesworth has not provided any evidence that either victim now believes her identification was inaccurate…Although this may seem to be a compelling case requiring us to correct an injustice, unless and until the legislature gives us the tools to correct such perceived errors…we are powerless to act.”
In April 2012, Governor Bob McDonnell signed leglslation providing $1,075,178 in compensation.
– Maurice Possley