On November 1, 1982, the body of 19-year-old Ursula Brown was found between a school yard and an apartment building in Washington, D.C. She had been raped and fatally shot.
Ten days later, 17-year-old Kevin Martin was arrested on charges of murder and rape. Martin had been named by another youth, William Davidson, who implicated Martin in three robberies which took place on November 8, 1982. Between October 30, 1982 and November 8, 1982, William Davidson had committed several bump-and-rob incidents in which he and others bumped their car into the rear of other cars. When the motorists pulled over, the men were robbed and some of the women were raped and robbed. One those was the rape and murder of Ursula Brown. Davidson committed many of the crimes alone, but enlisted Kevin Williams in a number of these incidents and enlisted Kevin Martin on the evening of November 8 for some bump-and-rob incidents.
At first, Davidson only implicated Martin in the November 8th robberies and implicated Kevin Williams in the Brown rape and murder, but he subsequently also implicated Martin in the rape and murder of Ursula Brown on Halloween night.
Davidson pled guilty after being connected to the crime through a gun found near him when police arrested him. The gun was linked to the shooting by ballistics tests.
Police found a pair of tennis shoes belonging to Brown at the scene of the murder. The prosecution contended that a pubic hair was found on one of the shoes. After an FBI hair analyst compared the hair to a pubic hair obtained from Martin, a prosecutor told Martin’s lawyer and the judge hearing the case that the hairs matched.
As a result, in 1984, Martin, while maintaining his innocence, pled no contest to manslaughter in the murder of Brown, and to two unrelated counts of armed robbery for robberies that occurred on November 8. He was sentenced to 15 years to life in prison for the rape and murder of Brown.
In 2001, Martin sought to withdraw his plea after a new attorney, Bernard Grimm, discovered that the pubic hair was never actually recovered by either the police at the scene or by the original FBI analyst. Instead, a report from the FBI crime lab said that the pubic hair fell out of the evidence bag when it was opened.
Moreover, the original FBI report had merely stated that the hair strand was “like” that of Martin’s. Significantly, the FBI analyst’s notes also indicated that the hair found in the evidence bag was also “like” the hair on the victim’s own head.
Martin argued that his original attorney had failed to examine the FBI report and failed to investigate the crime at all. Instead, his attorney took the prosecutor at his word that the hairs matched and recommended that Martin enter a no contest plea.
Martin’s motion to withdraw his plea was denied, and a motion for DNA testing was denied as well, when authorities said they could not locate the evidence. After the evidence could not be located, the prosecution agreed to a resentencing for Martin. He was sentenced to 15 to 30 years in prison for the armed robberies and a consecutive term of 15 to 30 years for the rape murder. The resentencing made Martin immediately eligible for parole, which was denied. But in 2009, Martin was granted parole and he was released after spending more than 26 years in prison.
Meanwhile, in the wake of four other exonerations in hair comparison cases obtained by the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia, the United States Attorney's Office began reviewing cases in which such testimony was used. Between the time of the initial evidence search in Martin’s case and this review, decades of old physical evidence were reorganized and barcoded.
In 2014, Grimm and the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project sought DNA testing again. This time, when prosecutors searched for the evidence in Martin's case they found it, barcoded and properly stored.
A DNA analysis was conducted on the rape kit. The testing excluded Martin as the source of the sperm and matched Davidson.
On July 21, 2014, the prosecution and attorneys for Martin filed a joint motion for to vacate his conviction on the basis of actual innocence. In court papers, Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael T. Ambrosino and Grimm wrote that the "DNA testing conducted at the expense of the government along with other factors . . . conclusively establish that Kevin Martin is innocent of the rape and murder of Ursula Brown.”
Judge Robert Richter granted the motion, issued a certificate of innocence, and the charge was dismissed. Martin filed a $30 million lawsuit against the District of Columbia in 2015.
– Maurice Possley