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Charles Dabbs

Other New York Cases with False or Misleading Forensic Evidence
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At about 3:30 a.m., on August 12, 1982, an 18-year-old woman was attacked from behind as she walked home and forcibly dragged into an alleyway between a warehouse and another building in Westchester County, New York. As her attacker dragged her up a flight of stairs, she was dropped and hit her head, causing her to lose consciousness.

When she came to, the woman saw three assailants. One held her arms, one held her legs, one stood between her legs. As she struggled to get free, the man between her legs slapped her, bringing his face within inches of hers. The man then raped her.

The victim, who was six months pregnant, later suffered a miscarriage. After the attack, the woman was taken to Peekskill Community Hospital where a rape kit was collected. The victim’s clothes were also preserved as evidence.

The victim identified the man who raped her as the 27-year-old Charles Dabbs. She said she was sure it was Dabbs because he was a distant cousin of hers whom she had known casually for nearly nine years. She claimed to have seen Dabbs as recently as three to four months prior to the rape.

Dabbs was charged with rape and in April 1984, he went to trial in Westchester County Supreme Court. The victim identified Dabbs and said he wore a black baseball cap with a "Playboy bunny" embroidered on the brim. She said the hat was similar to one she had seen Dabbs wear on other occasions. She also testified that she recognized Dabbs by his distinctive laugh and that he was missing teeth. The two other attackers were never arrested.

The prosecution also presented the results of the forensic evaluation of the physical evidence. Although semen was found on the victim’s underwear and on a gauze pad and slides from the rape kit, the prosecution was unable to show the semen came from Dabbs. Blood grouping tests on a semen stain on the victim’s pants revealed the presence of two blood antigens—B and H.

Only the H antigen was secreted by Dabbs, according to the testimony. The results could have come from either the victim or the perpetrator, but the analyst did not make that clear—saying instead that Dabbs' blood type was consistent with the evidence.

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 substance or enzymes foreign to the victim – no potential semen source can be excluded because the victim’s blood group markers could be “masking” the perpetrator. Under such circumstances, the failure to inform the jury that 100% of the male population could be included and that none can be excluded was highly misleading.

The prosecution contended that one explanation for the presence of the B antigen was that the pants had been borrowed from the victim’s mother and that the semen could have been deposited on the pants at a different time. The victim's mother testified that she might have had sexual intercourse during a time she had worn the pants prior to August 12, 1982.

Dabbs testified in his own defense and denied involvement in the crime. He told the jury that he had worn his hair in a distinctive hairstyle--braided into "corn rows”—a fact not mentioned by the victim. He also said he had all his teeth contrary to the victim’s description.

On April 10, 1984, the jury convicted Dabbs of rape. He was sentenced to 12½ to 25 years in prison.

Following the trial, the physical evidence--cuttings from the victim's underwear and pants, and the gauze pad from the rape kit were frozen in storage at the Westchester County Department of Laboratories and Research.

In 1988, the Appellate Division upheld Dabbs’s conviction and sentence.

In 1990, Dabbs gained access to the evidence for DNA testing and Centurion Ministries, a New Jersey-based nonprofit organization that works to overturn wrongful convictions, agreed to pay for the tests. Though testing on the victim's pants was inconclusive, DNA was successfully extracted from a cutting of the victim's underwear and Dabbs was excluded.

On July 31, 1991, the trial court granted a defense motion to vacate Dabbs’s conviction. The prosecution dismissed the charge on August 22, 1991.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date:  Before June 2012
State:New York
County:Westchester
Most Serious Crime:Sexual Assault
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:1982
Convicted:1984
Exonerated:1991
Sentence:12 1/2 to 20 years
Race:Black
Sex:Male
Age at the date of crime:27
Contributing Factors:Mistaken Witness ID, False or Misleading Forensic Evidence
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:Yes