Harold Buntin was released from prison in 2007 after serving 13 years in Indiana prisons for a rape he didn't commit. DNA testing proved his innocence in 2005 and a judge ruled that he was exonerated and should be released – but the file was misplaced and Buntin served another two years in prison before the error was corrected and he was released.
The Crime and Identification
On the evening of August 4, 1984, a woman was working in a dry cleaning shop in north Indianapolis when an African-American man knocked and asked if the shop was open. She let him in and he asked if there were clothes to be picked up under the name "Button." The victim, who is Caucasian, checked the store and wasn't able to locate the clothes. He asked for clothing under a different name but then told the woman it was the wrong order. While the woman was hanging up the clothes, the man attacked her with a pair of scissors. The man forced the victim to dump her purse on the floor and he stole five dollars from her wallet. He forced the victim to remove her clothes and raped her in the store. He then tied her up with electrical cords, covered her with clothing from the store and left the cleaners.
The victim was able to untie herself and she ran to a nearby liquor store, where employees called the police. The victim was taken to a hospital, where a rape kit was collected. Soon after the crime, police showed the victim a number of mugshots and she did not identify anyone as the perpetrator. She also viewed yearbooks at a local high school and identified a recent graduate as her attacker. When she asked to see a live lineup including that man, police told her he lived out of state and wasn’t available for questioning. No one was arrested at the time.
Nearly four months after the crime, the victim was shopping in a grocery store where she saw Buntin and identified him as her attacker. She saw a police car nearby and alerted the police, who arrested Buntin. According to legal briefs filed later on Buntin’s behalf, the victim was legally blind in one eye and nearsighted in the other.
The Trial and Appeals
Buntin was charged with rape and robbery and a jury trial was held April 21-23, 1986. Between days of the trial, Buntin left the county and did not return for court. The trial continued without him. The state's evidence included the victim's identification of Buntin as her attacker, and forensic test results showing that seminal fluid recovered from the victim's body after the attack came from a person with Type O blood — which was also the blood type of both the victim and Buntin. The analyst testified that 36% of the population had this blood type, improperly suggesting that 64% were excluded as possible contributors. When the evidence being tested is a mixed stain of semen from the perpetrator and vaginal secretions from the victim – and testing does not detect blood group substances or enzymes foreign to the victim – no potential semen donor can be excluded because the victim's blood group markers could be "masking" the perpetrator's. Under such circumstances, the failure to inform the jury that 100% of the male population could be included and that none can be excluded is highly misleading.
Buntin was convicted in absentia by the jury, but he was not sentenced because he could not be located.
A warrant for Buntin's arrest was outstanding until he was arrested in 1994 for an unrelated incident in Florida. According to court documents, Buntin, who was living under an assumed name, was charged with and convicted of two robberies in Florida. Through fingerprint records, Florida authorities learned of Buntin's conviction in Indiana and he was extradited for sentencing in Indiana. Upon returning to Indiana in 1994, Buntin was sentenced to 50 years in prison for the Indiana rape and robbery. He first appealed his conviction in 1996, represented by a state-appointed attorney, raising the issue of the questionable eyewitness identification in his case. His appeals were denied.
It wasn’t until 2005, when Buntin was represented by a private attorney, that he was able to gain DNA testing. The results proved that Buntin could not have committed the crime and his attorney filed a motion seeking dismissal of the charges against him. The results were presented to a judge at a hearing in March 2005 and the judge ordered Buntin's release in May. However, this order was misfiled and Buntin was not released.
"Whether the bailiff failed to follow the provided directions or whether the deputy clerk assigned to this court failed to discharge her responsibilities, the order was never entered of record and copies were never distributed to the interested parties," Judge Grant W. Hawkins and Master Commissioner Nancy L. Broyles wrote in a notice explaining the delayed ruling, according to media reports. "Rather, the file was closed and archived as if the court's order had been properly entered into the record."
In April of 2007, after the error had been corrected, Buntin was released from prison. He had served 13 years in prison for a rape and robbery he didn’t commit, including two years after he was officially exonerated.