Jerry Lee Evans spent more than two decades in Texas prisons for a violent sexual assault that he did not commit. After DNA testing conducted in 2007 determined that Evans could not have committed the crime, he was officially exonerated on May 27, 2009, becoming the 20th DNA exoneree in Dallas County.
On the night of August 29, 1986, two 18-year-old female college students were planning to go dancing in the Deep Ellum neighborhood of Dallas. On their way, the women stopped to visit a friend. As they were leaving the apartment, a man later identified as Evans approached them and forced his way into the car by holding a knife to one of the girl’s throats. The man directed the victims to drive into an alley, where two other men armed with knives got in the backseat of the car, and continued threatening the women.
The man identified as Evans directed the women to drive to a secluded area, where he forced one of them to perform oral sex, then raped her vaginally at knifepoint while the two other men unsuccessfully tried to rape the other victim. After he had finished, the man identified as Evans took the women’s money and jewelry and fled into the woods, leaving the other perpetrators behind with the victims.
The two men debated whether to kill the women or let them go. Eventually, the women were able to convince the men to walk to a nearby apartment complex. The men made the women walk with their arms around them in order to avoid suspicion, but a passerby apparently sensed that the women were in trouble and offered them a ride. After the passerby had driven the women back to campus, they called the police. The women were then taken to a hospital for examinations, and rape kits were collected.
The victim who was raped described her attacker as a black man in his mid-twenties, 5-feet-6-inches or 5-feet-7-inches tall, 150 pounds, muscular, with a slight beard. She also told the police that the rapist wore a single black glove with metal spikes on his left hand, and that he had a speech impediment.
Dallas police investigators went to a day-laborer bunkhouse near the spot where the women were abducted and asked people in the area whether they knew of a man matching the description. The investigators were eventually directed to Evans, who was known to wear two gloves and usually carried butter knives with him. Almost a year after the assault, the victim positively identified a picture of Evans mixed with five other photographs. The other victim was shown the same photo lineup, however, and she was unable to identify Evans. The two other perpetrators were never discovered by the police.
Although there was no physical evidence linking him to the rape, Evans was charged with sexual assault, and his case went to trial in early 1987. He testified in his own defense, denying any connection to the rape. Evans admitted that he was living in the bunkhouse at the time, but claimed that he left at about 10 p.m. and went to a pool hall and disco on the other side of town, and did not return until around 4:30 a.m. No one from either establishment was called to testify in Evans’ defense.
Although only one of the victims had identified Evans before trial, both women identified him in court as the perpetrator. An investigator also testified that Evans’ speech impediment was exactly as the victim had described. Based on this testimony and the identification, Evans was convicted of aggravated sexual assault with a deadly weapon and sentenced to life in prison.
Evans began seeking DNA testing in 2002, one year after the Texas legislature passed a law allowing defendants to petition for DNA tests in cases where it could potentially prove innocence. It wasn’t until 2007, after newly elected Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins had created a Conviction Integrity Unit to oversee post-conviction review of DNA evidence, that Evans finally obtained access to the testing that would prove his innocence.
After Evans filed a petition for DNA testing without the assistance of an attorney, Michelle Moore of the Dallas County Public Defender’s Office was appointed to represent him. In May 2008, Moore filed a formal motion for post-conviction DNA testing. The state’s response, filed in November 2008, indicated that they would not oppose Evans’ motion, and the court allowed DNA testing to be conducted on the remaining biological evidence from the case. The results conclusively excluded Evans as the perpetrator. On May 27, 2009, Evans was officially exonerated and walked out of a Dallas court a free man for the first time in 23 years.
After Evans’ release, Texas enacted a law compensating the exonerated, including those freed before the law was passed, $80,000 for each year in prison. As of 2012, he had received $2,024,323 in state compensation.