On December 16, 1983, two men forced their way into a home in Kansas City, Missouri where they raped and robbed a 25-year-old woman.
The following day police showed the victim photographs of known sex offenders and other men. The woman was unable to identify her attacker.
In January, 1984, an anonymous caller told police that the attackers were two brothers named "Ramsey" who were in jail for robbery. Police discovered that 20-year-old Robert Nelson and his brother, O’Dell Nelson, were in jail after being arrested for two robberies. Robert Nelson had also been charged with a rape. Although the last name provided by the caller was not Nelson, police put the brothers in a lineup, videotaped it and showed it to the victim.
The victim made a tentative visual identification of Robert Nelson. When she heard him speak on the videotape, she “positively identified” him as one of her attackers.
Although the victim did not identify O'Dell, both brothers were charged with the attack. The charges against O’Dell were later dismissed.
Robert Nelson went on trial in Jackson County Circuit Court in December 1984 and the victim identified him as one of her attackers. Nelson claimed that he was with family members at the time of the attack, and his lawyer filed a notice that he would present an alibi defense, but no such defense was presented at trial.
Nelson was convicted on December 11, 1984 and sentenced to 98 years in prison. He was later convicted of the two unrelated robberies and received lesser sentences. The unrelated rape charge was dismissed by the prosecution.
No appeal was filed on Nelson’s behalf. In 1987, Nelson filed a motion for a new trial and the motion was denied. His appeal of that ruling was denied by the Missouri Court of Appeals.
More than 21 years later, on August 20, 2009, Nelson filed a motion for DNA testing of the crime scene evidence in the case. That motion was denied. A motion to reconsider the denial was rejected in late 2011.
In December 2011, the Jackson County Prosecutor’s Office cold case unit sought DNA testing of the physical evidence in the case in an attempt to identify the second perpetrator of the 1983 attack.
After Nelson's unsuccessful attempt to obtain DNA testing, a Jackson County court clerk gave a copy of a successful DNA testing motion to Nelson's sister to use as a template to try again.
So, in February 2012, Nelson filed another motion for DNA testing. When the prosecution responded that it had already begun DNA testing, a judge appointed the Midwest Innocence Project to represent Nelson, and testing, funded by the Innocence Project, went forward.
In August 2012, the Kansas City Police Department Crime Laboratory reported a match between two unknown DNA profiles developed from the crime scene evidence—a robe worn by the victim—and the DNA profiles of two convicted felons. One of the new suspects was in prison serving a life sentence for a 1994 conviction of rape, assault and burglary. No charges were immediately filed against him. The other suspect had convicted of a drug crime in 2006 but was no longer in custody. He was arrested in Iowa and charged with the 1983 rape and robbery.
On June 12, 2013, the Innocence Project and the Jackson County Prosecutor’s Office filed a joint motion requesting that Nelson’s conviction be vacated and the charges be dismissed. Judge David M. Byrn granted the motion, stating in his order that Nelson was innocent, and Nelson was released.
Five days after Nelson was released, a Jackson County Court administrator suspended the court clerk without pay because of her involvement in the case. The clerk was fired on June 27 for violating court rules barring provision of assistance to litigants and for talking about the case to attorneys not involved in the matter.
– Maurice Possley