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Kerry Robinson

Other Georgia exonerations
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On February 15, 1993, three young men forced their way at gunpoint into a home in Moultrie, Georgia. All three raped the 42-year-old woman, P.M., who was living there.

P.M. told police that one of her attackers wore a gray hooded sweatshirt and appeared to be the leader. He threatened her with a long-barreled handgun.

Two days later, P.M. looked at the 1991 Colquitt County Junior High School yearbook photos and identified the leader as 18-year-old Tyrone White. She identified the photo of Derrick Smith as one of the other two attackers. Meanwhile police had located two witnesses who said they saw a male in a gray sweatshirt outside P.M.’s home about the time of the attack. Police also showed P.M. a long-barreled pistol they had gotten from White’s mother, and P.M. said it resembled the gun that White was carrying.

Police questioned White, who denied that he and Smith were involved in the attack. He said he was with Smith before the attack occurred, as well as later. When police questioned Smith, he also denied involvement, but his account of his whereabouts contradicted White’s account.

At that time, police chose to believe Smith and he was not prosecuted.

White was questioned further and then said, “It was Sedrick Moore…Kerry Lewis, no, Kerry Robinson, and another dude. I seen them.”

When police confronted White with evidence that witnesses had seen him outside of P.M.’s home at the time of the crime, he said he had been a lookout, and was wearing a flannel shirt and black mask. Asked if he went into P.M.’s home, White said, “Sedrick. Naw, I’m gonna say it was Kerry Robinson. It sure was.”

As a result, on April 19, 1993, Robinson and Moore, who were both 17 years old, were arrested and charged with rape. Both were released on bond pending trial, and Moore disappeared.

He was finally arrested nearly a decade later. In February 2002, Robinson and Moore went to trial in Colquitt County Superior Court.

P.M. testified and identified White as the leader. She said he was wearing a gray hooded sweatshirt. She testified that at first, she was sure that Smith was one of the attackers, but that she became less sure after police told her that Smith “was not the right one.” She never identified Robinson as one of her attackers.

White had pled guilty to rape and agreed to testify for the prosecution. In return, charges of armed robbery, burglary, and possession of a firearm during commission of a crime were dismissed. White insisted he was not the leader of the group. He admitted taking part in the crime, but said he had no choice but to assault P.M. because Moore and Robinson held him at gunpoint.

Brad Pearson, a laboratory analyst for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, testified about DNA testing performed on the sexual assault kit taken from P.M. He said there was a mixture of multiple DNA profiles. Two of the profiles belonged to P.M. and White, he said.

After excluding those profiles, there were still four partial DNA markers—called alleles—remaining. Pearson said that Robinson “could not be excluded as the donor [of] these additional alleles.” He then went to repeatedly say that Robinson’s DNA was a “match” to the remaining alleles.

The prosecutor asked, “Did you also find alleles that were present that matched Sedrick Moore and Kerry Robinson?”

Pearson replied, ‘Yes, sir…[A]dditional alleles that were present in the vaginal cervical swabs matched them as well.”

During cross-examination, Pearson admitted that 500 to 1,000 other individuals in that geographical area “alone” could have “matched” the remaining alleles. He said that while White’s DNA profile matched pairs of alleles at 11 locations, Robinson and Moore each had only two individual alleges that were consistent with the DNA found in the assault kit.

Moreover, he admitted that he did not “have enough DNA alleles present on Kerry Robinson or Sedrick Moore to call an identity or a match.”

When he was again questioned by the prosecutor, Pearson said that while he could not do any supporting “math,” there was a “very, very low” probability that two individuals selected at random would match the remaining alleles as he said Robinson and Moore did.

He said, “If you had a population of 10,000 black males and you look at their DNA pattern and they just happened to match on these patterns that I observed as well, that would be, I can’t do the math on that, but that’d be very, very low.”

On February 26, 2002, the jury convicted Robinson of rape. Moore was convicted of rape, armed robbery, burglary, and possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime. Robinson was sentenced to 20 years in prison and Moore was sentenced to 75 years in prison.

In 1993, the Court of Appeals of Georgia upheld Robinson’s conviction and sentence.

In August 2005, Robinson filed a motion for new trial requesting DNA testing of the physical evidence in his case. The evidence, according to the prosecution, had been destroyed on July 8, 2003—nearly two months after a new law took effect in Georgia requiring the preservation of biological evidence relating to the identity of a perpetrator until at least May 2013.

In March 2007, attorney Rodney Zell, representing Robinson, contacted Dr. Greg Hampikian, emeritus member of the Georgia Innocence Project board, and professor of Biology and Criminal Justice at Boise State University. Hampikian agreed to take the case pro bono and performed an independent analysis of the DNA. He concluded that Robinson should have been excluded. Hampikian contacted other DNA experts who examined the DNA and agreed that Robinson should be excluded. At Hampikian’s request, Zell sought all electronic data related to the case so that Hampikian could analyze the raw data in his lab. The GBI said the data could not be found.

In 2008, Robinson filed a state law habeas petition claiming that his trial defense attorney had provided an inadequate legal defense by failing to properly cross-examine Pearson about the fallibility of interpretation of DNA mixtures. That motion was ultimately supplemented by Zell, who reported the results of a study on the DNA evidence conducted by Hampikian.

In 2010, Hampikian worked with Atlanta television reporter Dale Russsell on a two-part report regarding Robinson’s claim of innocence. Hampikian shared an affidavit from Connecticut State Police Laboratory DNA analyst Eric Carita, who also excluded Robinson. In addition, DNA analyst Angali Swienton of SciLaw Forensics, Ltd. told Russell that Robinson had been excluded. As part of the report, four staff members at the television station were swabbed, and forensic DNA profiles were produced in Dr. Hampikian’s BSU laboratory. All four had at least as many alleles in common with the DNA mixture from the rape as Robinson. The one who had the most in common—more than Robinson—was a 22-year-old white woman.

In 2010, Dr. Hampikian showed that Pearson’s testimony was deeply flawed by conducting a peer-reviewed study with the Robinson DNA data. As part of a published case study called “Subjectivity and Bias in Forensic Mixture Interpretation,” Hampikian and his co-author Itiel Dror, gave the DNA data in the case to 17 DNA analysts at a North American crime laboratory for evaluation. Twelve of the analysts concluded that Robinson’s DNA was not present, four analysts could not reach a conclusion, and only one of the analysts agreed with Pearson.

In September of 2012, the Georgia Innocence Project helped fund Hampikian’s travel to Georgia to testify in a hearing where Zell presented evidence of Robinson’s innocence.

The motion was denied in 2015.

In 2018, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation crime lab began using TrueAllele, a probabilistic genotyping software.

In 2018, the GBI sent to Hampikian’s laboratory at BSU partial electronic records for the case that did not include the evidence files. A fifth request resulted in the full electronic data needed for analysis. Analysis by Hampikian’s lab confirmed Robinson’s exclusion. The files were then sent to Cybergenetics for TrueAllele analysis. Analysis by Cybergenetics excluded Robinson as a possible contributor. The analysis concluded that a random African American is 1,800 times “more likely” to have been a contributor to the DNA mixture than Robinson.

In September 2019, Zell and Georgia Innocence Project attorney Jennifer Whitfield filed an amended motion for new trial based on the TrueAllele analysis. The motion noted that Pearson’s “now-debunked opinion” was not “a throwaway comment.” It was, the motion said, “the linchpin” of the prosecution’s case. “Robinson should have been excluded rather than included as a suspect," the motion said

On January 8, 2020, Zell and Whitfield filed a motion, which was joined by Southern Judicial Circuit District Attorney Bradfield Shealy, to vacate Robinson’s conviction and to dismiss the case. Judge Brian A. McDaniel granted the motion and Robinson was released after nearly 18 years in prison.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 2/10/2020
State:Georgia
County:Colquitt
Most Serious Crime:Sexual Assault
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:1993
Convicted:2002
Exonerated:2020
Sentence:20 years
Race:Black
Sex:Male
Age at the date of reported crime:17
Contributing Factors:False or Misleading Forensic Evidence, Perjury or False Accusation
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:Yes*