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Roy Watford III

Other Exonerees Convicted in 1978
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On the night of September 14, 1977, a 12-year-old girl and her mother came to the Portsmouth Naval Hospital in Portsmouth, Virginia to report that the girl had been raped and sodomized at about 9:30 p.m. in an abandoned home.

A rape kit was taken and police were notified. A physician wrote three names in the girl’s medical records in a document called “Doctor’s report of Alleged Rape.” The named were listed as “Skip, Anthony, Vale Waffer.” The names Skip and Vale were crossed out, and, in distinctively different handwriting, the name “Roy W. III” was written above Skip, and the name “Evelio Watford” was written above Vale Waffer.

Police determined that the girl was referring to members of the Watford family after a Portsmouth police detective drove the girl, identified as A.C., to the street where she was attacked. She pointed out two homes. The first was the home of one of her attackers—Evelio Watford, she said. The other was the abandoned home—two doors away from the Watford residence and where she said she was attacked.

She said that she knocked on the door of the abandoned home and saw Evelio inside. When she stepped in the house, she said, someone threw a blanket over her head and she was shoved onto a mattress where three men raped and sodomized her.

The detective attempted to tape record an interview with her, but A.C. was unable to give a coherent account of what happened or to give a written statement.

On September 16, 1977, 18-year-old Roy Watford III was arrested, as were his brothers, 17-year-old Evelio and 15-year-old Anthony. At the time, Evelio and Anthony lived with their father in the home two doors away from the abandoned home where the attack occurred. Roy Watford III lived with his grandparents in a different part of Portsmouth.

All three were charged with rape and sodomy. On March 23, 1978, Roy Watford III—at the urging of his grandfather—pled guilty to rape. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison, but the sentence was suspended and he was released. Anthony was acquitted in juvenile court, and the charges against Evelio were dismissed prior to trial.

Between 2001 and early 2005, five defendants in Virginia–Marvin Anderson, Julius Ruffin, Arthur Lee Whitfield, Willie Davidson, and Philip Thurman–were exonerated by DNA testing. The testing was possible after officials discovered that biological material from rape kit swabs and pieces of cloth were preserved in the case files of Mary Jane Burton, a deceased forensic analyst in the Virginia Department of Forensic Science.

In 2005, then-Governor Mark Warner ordered testing of all potentially probative biological evidence from 1973 through 1988 that could be found in Burton’s files.

By 2012, five more defendants had been exonerated by DNA testing of biological evidence in Burton's files: Curtis Moore, Victor Burnette, Thomas Haynesworth, Calvin Wayne Cunningham, and Bennett Barbour.

In 2013, DNA testing on evidence from Garry Diamond’s case file exonerated him of a 1976 rape of a woman whose car had broken down along a Virginia interstate highway. He became the eleventh person exonerated based on DNA testing of evidence in Burton’s files.

Watford’s case was also among Burton’s files, and in 2010, pieces of evidence from the file were tested. The Virginia Department of Forensic Science reported in August 2010 that three male DNA profiles were found on A.C.’s jeans and underwear, the anal and vaginal swabs, and the mattress cutting. Anthony and Evelio Watford were excluded, but Roy Watford III could not be excluded because investigators were unable to get a sample of his DNA suitable for comparison.

However, in 2016, a proper sample of his DNA was obtained and Watford was also excluded. As a result, in August 2016, Watford petitioned the Virginia Supreme Court for a certificate of innocence.

After the prosecution opposed the petition, the Supreme Court ordered the Circuit Court of the City of Portsmouth to hold an evidentiary hearing.

At the hearing, A.C. testified that she had not seen Roy Watford III on the day of the attack. She said that she did see Evelio after she entered the vacant house, just before the quilt was thrown over her head and she was assaulted. Asked if she had named Roy as one of her attackers at the time, A.C. said, “I can’t remember that I did…I don’t remember. No, I don’t remember naming him.”

Moreover, when asked if she knew Roy’s nickname (Skip) at the time, A.C. said she did not.

Another witness, Robert Jenkins, testified that at the time of the assault, he was 13 years old and lived in the house that was between the home where Evelio and Anthony Watford lived and the abandoned home where the attack occurred. He said he was in front of his house with friend that day, and he did not remember seeing Roy at all.

Joseph Brown testified that he and a friend were walking by the vacant house on the day of the assault when they heard a girl screaming from inside. He said he and his friend went inside and saw A.C. and some males that he did not know. He said that he and his friend took A.C. out of the house. Brown said that he knew Roy and that Roy was not in the house.

After the hearing, the case was sent back to the Virginia Supreme Court. On March 1, 2018, the Supreme Court ruled that Roy Watford III was innocent.

The court noted that A.C. not only said that she had not seen Roy that day, but that she didn’t know that his nickname was “Skip.” As a result, the court concluded that the information written in the physician’s rape report on the day A.C. came to the hospital came from someone other than A.C.

“Thus, it is highly unlikely that A.C. would have identified Watford using a nickname that she did not know,” the court ruled. “Finally, and perhaps most persuasive, is the fact that the only person that A.C. conclusively identified as being in the vacant house was Evelio.”

“If A.C. did not see Watford at all on the day of the attack and could not identify his voice, then she could not have identified him as being one of her attackers,” the court said. “Accordingly, the court hereby grants Watford’s petition for a writ of actual innocence.”

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 3/8/2018
State:Virginia
County:Portsmouth
Most Serious Crime:Sexual Assault
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:1977
Convicted:1978
Exonerated:2018
Sentence:Probation
Race:Black
Sex:Male
Age at the date of crime:18
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:Yes*