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Ronjon Cameron

Other No Crime Exonerations Involving DNA
On September 15, 1999, a woman in Pittsfield, Massachusetts reported to police that she had been raped two days earlier by 52-year-old Ronjon Cameron.

The woman, who was deaf and partially blind, told police that her boyfriend, Robert Lanphear, was forced to vacate his apartment to begin serving a prison sentence. Lanphear had agreed to allow Cameron to live in the apartment so long as the woman occasionally checked in to assure the premises were being kept up.

On September 13, 1999, the victim said she went to the apartment to retrieve a key, which had been left on a hook in the kitchen by Lanphear's sister. She told police that when she arrived, the door was open. When she entered, she saw Cameron, whom she had met a month earlier. She said that when she asked for the key, Cameron, who smelled of alcohol, said he didn’t know where the key was—it was not on a hook in the kitchen.

The woman told Cameron that she would report to Lanphear and left, but then quickly returned because she remembered that Lanphear had asked her to pick up photographs of his children and bring them to him at the prison.

The woman said that as she picked up the photographs, Cameron grabbed her from behind, threw her to the floor, and then dragged her to a large La-Z-Boy chair. There, he pushed her head to the chair, pulled down her pants, and forced his penis into her vagina, and then into her rectum. The assault lasted approximately two to five minutes and she said she believed that Cameron ejaculated.

When the woman returned home, she did not tell her roommate what had happened until two days later. At that time, her roommate accompanied her to the Pittsfield police station. Police collected the woman’s clothing. The woman said the underwear had been washed a week earlier and worn twice—on the day of the attack and two or three days earlier.

A detective also took pictures of bruises on the victim's back and rug burns on her knees. The victim did not see a physician until September 20, 1999—seven days after the attack.

Meanwhile on September 15, 1999, Cameron was arrested and charged with two counts of rape.

Cameron went to trial in Berkshire County Superior Court in March 2003.

After the woman recounted the details of the rape, the defense sought to question her about her prior sexual activity because DNA testing had shown the presence of seminal fluids from two males. Cameron’s defense attorney argued that the woman fabricated the account of Cameron’s attack to keep her imprisoned boyfriend from finding out she had sex with someone else, but the judge refused to allow the questioning.

Dr. Mark Liponis, an emergency room physician at the Berkshire Medical Center testified that that he found a six-centimeter scratch on the woman’s left leg and small bruises on her left shin. He also noted there were "no external signs of trauma," but said that unless the assault was extremely traumatic, it was unlikely for signs of trauma to be present a week afterward.

The prosecution also presented testimony from a chemist at the Massachusetts State Crime Laboratory. The chemist said that seminal fluid had been found in two locations on the woman’s underwear.

The underwear was then sent DNA testing at a private laboratory. A DNA analyst testified that the results indicated the presence of DNA from at least two males. The analyst said a primary sample excluded Cameron, but that a second sample neither included nor excluded him.

Cameron testified in his own defense and denied sexually assaulting the woman. He said he did not see her on the day of the alleged attack and had never had sexual intercourse with her.

On April 2, 2003, the jury convicted Cameron on both counts of rape. He was sentenced to 12 to 16 years in prison.

In 2005, a post-conviction motion for a new trial was filed based on the sworn affidavits of two witnesses, Kim Marie Grievson and Melba McKim. Grievson’s affidavit said the complainant admitted that she lied when she accused Cameron of rape. McKim stated in her affidavit that she drove the woman to Lanphear's apartment on the date of the incident, that she was with her after the woman left Lanphear's apartment, and that she was not upset or disturbed. Grievson and McKim both said that the woman had a history of telling lies.

The judge denied the motion after ruling that he did not believe the statements of McKim and Grievson.

In 2007 the Massachusetts Appeals Court upheld Cameron’s conviction and sentence.

In 2010, the New England Innocence Project reviewed Cameron’s case and recommended additional DNA testing by more modern testing procedures. Cameron's case was then accepted by the Massachusetts Committee for Public Counsel Services (CPCS) Innocence Program. Two additional CPCS attorneys, Harry Miles and Innocence Program director Lisa Kavanaugh, joined Edmonds on Cameron's legal team. With funding from a grant by the Bureau of Justice Assistance Wrongful Conviction Review Program, Cameron's legal team secured the assistance of a DNA expert, Michael Bourke, who along with expert Steven Laken, assisted Cameron in securing additional DNA testing of the woman’s underwear in 2012. The tests revealed that there was only one male DNA profile and that Cameron was excluded as the source of that DNA.

The testing showed that the other DNA profile on the underwear was not that of a man—as the analyst had testified at Cameron’s trial—but rather came from a woman.

In January 2013, a motion for a new trial was filed describing the new DNA test results as well evidence that at the time of Cameron’s trial the prosecution had obtained a form of DNA testing (Y-STR) that was not the most discriminating test then available. At the time, another form of testing (PCR-STR) could have been conducted, but neither the prosecution nor Cameron’s defense attorney requested it. Moreover, a DNA expert had analyzed the testing performed at the time of Cameron’s trial and determined that in fact Cameron had been excluded from the secondary DNA sample, but the DNA analyst who testified at the trial apparently did not identify the exclusion.

Despite this evidence, a judge denied the motion without a hearing and the Massachusetts Appeals Court upheld the decision.

Cameron appealed to Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, supported by an amicus brief filed on behalf of the New England Innocence Project by Suffolk University Law School professor Stephanie Hartung. In June 2015, Cameron—who had been eligible for parole for two years, but was denied because he would not admit to the crime—was released on bond while the court considered his case.

The prosecution argued that the conviction should stand because the new DNA evidence “did not cast doubt on the justice of the jury’s verdict because the (prosecution) did not rely upon the DNA evidence to support (Cameron’s) conviction.”

In October 2015, the Supreme Judicial Council overturned the appellate decision and ordered a new trial for Cameron, because the new DNA “evidence would have cast doubt on the credibility of the complainant and rendered the commonwealth's strongest corroborative evidence inadmissible…Had the evidence been available at trial, there is a substantial risk that the jury would have reached a different conclusion.”

On November 23, 2015, the prosecution dismissed the charges.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 12/2/2015
State:Massachusetts
County:Berkshire
Most Serious Crime:Sexual Assault
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:1999
Convicted:2003
Exonerated:2015
Sentence:12 to 16 years
Race:Caucasian
Sex:Male
Age at the date of crime:52
Contributing Factors:False or Misleading Forensic Evidence, Perjury or False Accusation, Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:Yes