On September 21, 2002, a 15-year-old girl telephoned relatives and reported that her mother’s boyfriend had raped her hours earlier that morning in their home in Tampa, Florida.
The girl’s grandmother came to the home where 29-year-old Cheydrick Britt had been living with the girl and her mother for several years. The girl said that Britt forced her into the master bedroom around 6 a.m. after her mother had left to go to work.
The girl said that Britt had put on a pornographic video and then raped her and forced her to masturbate him until he ejaculated onto the bed, her hand and thigh and “somehow” one of her socks, though she did not see the ejaculate on her sock and did not tell police about the ejaculation on her sock until later in the investigation. She said Britt told her to take a shower while he sprayed and scrubbed the bed with bleach. The girl said that at about 10:30 a.m., her mother returned to the home—although she did not come inside—to pick up Britt and they had gone shopping.
The grandmother took the bleach bottle, a videotape, and the sheets from the bed, went to her own home with the girl, and called the police. Later, they returned to the girl’s home with the police and the girl pointed out the crime scene and the clothing she had worn during the assault. At this time, the girl told police that Britt penetrated her five times, ejaculated once inside of her and ejaculated twice after she masturbated him.
Police confiscated the evidence that the grandmother had, as well as the clothing that the girl said she was wearing during the assault, including pink underwear. The girl was then taken to a rape crisis clinic and examined by a nurse who prepared a rape kit. The girl gave a different account to the nurse, saying that Britt ejaculated in her hands and then re-inserted his penis into her vagina. The nurse later testified that there was redness in the vaginal area that could have been consistent with both forced and consensual intercourse.
Britt was arrested the same day while shopping at the mall with the girl’s mother. When the girl’s mother confronted Britt about the allegations, there was a physical altercation. Britt was charged with rape, sexual battery and sexual molestation of a victim under the age of 16.
In January and March of 2003, the rape kit, hairs, the girl’s underwear and halter top, and the sheet were sent to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) crime laboratory. Tests were positive for semen on the sheet, but this was not considered significant since this was the bed where Britt regularly slept and had intercourse with the girl’s mother. There was no evidence of semen on the vaginal swabs or swabs taken of the girl’s mouth. The girl’s underwear initially tested weakly positive for semen, but further tests were negative for semen. Months later, in September if 2003, the girl’s socks were sent to FDLE. Testing on one sock revealed a mixed profile of three individuals with Britt being the major contributor. The girl could not be excluded as a contributor from two locations on the profile from the sock. The girl and her mother sometimes shared socks, providing a benign explanation for the presence of Britt’s semen.
Britt went on trial in Hillsborough County Circuit Court in May 2004. The girl testified differently from her original account to police. She told the jury that she did not know whether Britt ejaculated inside of her and that he ejaculated only once when she masturbated him. She also said she had a consensual sexual encounter once before—a year prior—and her partner did not ejaculate.
The nurse testified to her examination and said that the girl told her she was sexually active. The prosecution presented evidence that after Britt was arrested, he called the girl’s mother and that when she questioned him about the incident he said he “needed help or counseling.” The prosecution argued that he was referring to the assault on the girl, while the defense claimed he was talking about domestic violence counseling.
The jury convicted Britt of all three counts on May 18, 2004, and he was sentenced to 30 years in prison. His convictions were upheld by Florida’s Second District Court of Appeal in 2006.
Britt retained attorney Charles Murray sometime in 2008 and filed a motion for DNA testing in August of 2010. Murray enlisted the help of the Innocence Project of Florida (IPF) in 2012 to assist with the scientific and technical aspects of the DNA testing. IPF drafted orders for testing that were signed by the court in June and September of 2012. In 2013, DNA Diagnostics Center (DDC), a private laboratory in Fairfield, Ohio identified semen on the girl’s underwear and DNA testing of that semen produced a male profile from someone other than Britt. Britt’s DNA was not found on the girl’s underwear during this testing performed in 2013, excluding him as a source of the semen. The test results suggested that more thorough examination and testing by FDLE prior to Britt’s trial could have prevented his wrongful conviction.
Upon discovery of the exclusionary DNA results on the girl’s underwear, IPF investigators interviewed the girl and her mother. Both women stood by the girl’s accusations and continued to assert that the girl had only had one prior sexual encounter before the alleged rape. These assertions did not explain the new DNA results. When questioned by the prosecutor about this discrepancy, the girl continued to stand by her story, causing the prosecution to recognize the problems with its case against Britt.
IPF filed a motion to vacate the conviction on July 22, 2013. On September 24, 2013, upon an oral motion, the judge vacated Britt’s convictions and sentence and ordered a new trial. Britt was released on bond a few days later. On November 20, 2013, the prosecution dismissed the charges against Britt.
– Maurice Possley