On the night of March 15, 1999, a 12-year-old girl was caught after she snuck out of her duplex in Lewisburg, Tennessee. When her older sister confronted her, the girl said she had gone to the residence in the other half of the duplex where she smoked marijuana with the owner, 43-year-old Randall Mills, and he then raped her.
The girl was taken to a hospital where a rape kit was prepared. Based on her statement, Mills was charged with rape, other sexual assault charges and a charge of providing marijuana to the victim.
Mills went on trial in January 2000 in Marshall County Circuit Court. The victim testified that Mills had invited her over to smoke marijuana that night so she snuck out and went next door. She said she was in a bedroom with Mills and smoked enough marijuana that she was unable to stop him from fondling her breast, performing oral sex on her, and penetrating her with his finger and then with his penis. She said that afterward, Mills gave her $20 and said that if she told anyone about what happened, he would deny it. She told the jury she had been a virgin and was not allowed to date boys.
Sharon Jenkins, a DNA analyst for the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, testified that she did not find any sperm on the vaginal swabs from the rape kit, but that she did find some sperm on the girl’s underwear. Jenkins testified that she was unable to eliminate Mills as the source of the sperm.
On January 27, 2000, a jury convicted Mills of penile rape as well as touching the girl’s vagina and breast and providing marijuana to a minor. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison.
After his convictions were upheld by the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals, Mills filed a motion for a new trial alleging his trial lawyer had failed to provide an adequate legal defense because he did not hire a DNA expert to contest the state’s DNA evidence.
During a hearing on the motion, an attorney who represented Mills at a preliminary hearing testified that Mills had admitted smoking marijuana with the girl, fondling her and penetrating her with his finger, but denied penile penetration. At some point later on, the lawyer said Mills changed his account to suggest his son had had sex with the victim. Mills’s motion was denied. The lawyer was later disciplined for giving false testimony in an unrelated matter.
In 2005, after the denial had been upheld on appeal, Mills filed a federal petition for a writ of habeas corpus. A federal defender was appointed to represent him and, working with the New York-based Innocence Project, successfully petitioned for DNA testing. When the testing identified two male profiles that excluded Mills, he filed a motion in state court to re-open his post-conviction petition for a new trial.
A hearing was held in May 2010 where a DNA expert testified that Mills had been excluded. The expert further testified that Jenkins, the state’s expert at Mills’s trial, had given incorrect testimony when she said that her testing could not exclude Mills as the source of the sperm found on the victim’s underwear.
Mills testified and denied any involvement with the girl.
In January 2011, Marshall County Circuit Court Judge Robert Crigler vacated the penile rape conviction, but declined to vacate the convictions on the other sexual assault and drug charges. In February, Mills filed a notice of appeal. In May 2011, the Innocence Project secured Mills’s release through an agreement in which he did not admit guilt, but agreed to register as a sex offender.
In November 2013, the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals vacated Mills’s remaining convictions and ordered a new trial. The court held that the new DNA evidence "casts at least some doubt on the accuracy of Jenkins’s results" and called into question not only whether Mills committed the rape, but any of the other charges.
On April 4, 2014, the Marshall County District Attorney General’s office dismissed the charges.
– Maurice Possley