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George Lewis

Other Minnesota Exonerations
On August 13, 1988, a woman was walking home from a bar in Minneapolis when two men dragged her into a car and sexually assaulted her. The woman, who was black, managed to escape, but was highly intoxicated and could only describe her attackers as black males. She was unable to describe the interior of the car.

Eight days later, the woman was in the same bar and saw two men she believed were her attackers. She informed an off-duty police officer who happened to be in the bar and he arrested 28-year-old George Lewis and 26-year-old Lovell Carter, who was Lewis’s sister’s boyfriend.

Both denied involvement in the crime. They were each charged with first-degree criminal sexual conduct.

The men were tried separately in Hennepin County Circuit Court, and Lewis went to trial first in October 1988. The woman identified Lewis and said she was certain that Lewis and Carter had raped her. The evidence showed her blood-alcohol content was between .22 and .29—more than double the legal limit for driving. A forensic analyst said that blood tests on semen revealed the blood types of Lewis and Carter, but conceded that both men were part of a large group of males with the same blood type.

Lewis denied committing the crime and presented evidence that he was with friends at the time.

On November 1, 1988, the jury convicted Lewis of first-degree criminal sexual conduct.

On December 1, 1988, while Lewis was awaiting sentencing, a jury was selected for Carter’s trial. By that time, the victim had been arrested on an assault charge in an unrelated case. Prior to the presentation of opening statements by the prosecution and defense, the woman was led into the courtroom by deputies and placed in the front row of the spectator section so that the jury would not see that she came out of the lockup.

By the time the opening statements were completed, the woman was weeping. When the prosecutor asked what was wrong, the woman said that the man at the defense table—Carter—was not the second man who raped her. She said she had made a mistake.

A defense motion to dismiss the case was granted immediately.

Four days later, Lewis’s attorney requested a new trial based on the woman’s admission that Carter was not involved—contradicting her testimony Lewis’s trial that Carter was one of her attackers. The motion was denied and Lewis was sentenced to 12 years and 8 months in prison.

In 1990, the Minnesota Court of Appeals upheld the conviction, but ordered Lewis’s sentence reduced to 10 years and 10 months.

Lewis then filed a federal petition for a writ of habeas corpus arguing that the woman’s recantation of her identification of Carter undercut her credibility and her identification of Lewis. The petition was denied by a U.S. District Judge, but in October 1991, the Eighth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals issued the writ and ordered Lewis’s conviction vacated.

“We think a comparison of the victim’s earlier testimony that there was ‘no doubt in her mind’ Lewis and Carter attacked her with her later recantation would destroy her credibility in the jury’s eyes,” the federal appeals court ruled. “The jury already had reason to doubt the victim’s credibility.”

The court noted the testimony about the woman’s high level of intoxication and that the state’s forensic analyst “testified that this level of intoxication would severely hamper the victim’s ability to hear, see and remember.… Finally, she gave conflicting accounts of the number of times each man assaulted her.”

On November 14, 1991, the prosecution dismissed the charge against Lewis and he was released.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 10/28/2014
State:Minnesota
County:Hennepin
Most Serious Crime:Sexual Assault
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:1988
Convicted:1988
Exonerated:1991
Sentence:12 years and 8 months
Race:Black
Sex:Male
Age at the date of crime:28
Contributing Factors:Mistaken Witness ID
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No