On June 21, 1988, at about 10:15 a.m., a 14-year-old girl who was home alone in Fort Worth, Texas, was attacked by a strange man as she opened the back door to let her dog out.
She said the man, who was white, knocked her to the ground, put a towel over her face and covered her mouth with his hand. She told police she was able to see the man’s face three times for about 10 to 30 seconds.
The victim said the man forced her back into the house where he ripped off her clothes and raped her at knifepoint. He ejaculated into the girl’s hand and wiped her hand on his shirt, she said.
After several minutes, the victim put on some of the clothes she had been wearing and called police. She told them that the attacker had a foul-smelling body odor and was not wearing gloves.
Preliminary chemical tests on the clothing were negative for semen--a fact that would be disproved many years later. The Fort Worth Crime Laboratory said that the quantity of biological material on the swabs and slides prepared by hospital personnel was insufficient for blood testing. At the time, the laboratory did not have the capability to perform Forensic DNA testing, which was then in its infancy.
Medical personnel confirmed that the girl had never had sexual intercourse before.
On the day of the attack, police received a tip that a white man had been seen getting into a “white or silver-colored sports type car” near the victim’s home.
On June 23, 1988, two days after the attack, the victim was shown a photo lineup and she selected the photo of 24-year-old David Lee Wiggins, saying he “looks familiar.” A Fort Worth police officer suggested that Wiggins’ photo be included in the lineup because Wiggins had been a suspect in an earlier burglary case and because the officer thought he might fit the description of the rapist.
On June 24, Wiggins was arrested on suspicion of auto and gas theft. He was a passenger in a car driven by a friend. The car was a grey Camaro.
The following day, Wiggins agreed to be in a live lineup. He was the only member of the six-man lineup whose photograph had been in the photo lineup shown to the victim—a tactic that is condemned as suggestive. The victim again selected Wiggins and he was charged with rape.
Prior to trial, Wiggins filed a pro se motion seeking DNA testing. The motion was denied because the technology was not available.
At trial in Tarrant County Criminal District Court, the victim identified Wiggins, saying she was certain he was her attacker.
Wiggins’ defense attorney attacked the lineup procedures as improperly suggestive and argued that the victim had an extremely limited opportunity to view the rapist. None of the fingerprints recovered at the scene of the crime matched Wiggins.
The jury convicted Wiggins on June 21, 1989 and he was sentenced to life in prison.
Wiggins appealed, but his conviction was upheld.
On October 21, 2007, lawyers for the Innocence Project filed a motion seeking DNA testing. The prosecution did not oppose the motion.
Between 2008 and 2012, extensive DNA testing was performed at two different DNA laboratories on the victim’s clothing and the swab and slides. Partial DNA profiles were obtained which did not match Wiggins, but were not fully conclusive.
In 2010, at the request if the prosecution and the Innocence Project, the evidence was sent to the Serological Research Institute in Richmond, California, for a re-examination. In August 2012, SERI issued a report saying that Wiggins was conclusively excluded as the source of the partial DNA profile.
On August 24, 2012, a judge granted a motion presented jointly by the defense and prosecution to vacate the conviction and Wiggins was released from prison.
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals upheld the trial court decision on September 12, 2012 and the charge was dismissed on October 20, 2012.
– Maurice Possley