Dana Holland was imprisoned for 10 years for two crimes that occurred two weeks apart in 1993 on the south side of Chicago. One of the crimes was a rape, of which Holland was absolved by DNA in January 2003. The other crime was a robbery and attempted murder, for which he became a suspect as a result of the rape investigation. Holland was exonerated for that crime in June 2003.
On February 22, 1993, Chicago police were summoned to the call of a woman screaming in an alley near 79th Street and Wolcott Avenue on the city’s South Side. When officers arrived, they saw a partially-clad woman emerge screaming from a car and a man run away.
Police followed the man’s footprints in the snow to an apartment building where they saw Dana Holland, 25, putting pair of pants into the trash. Inside Holland’s apartment, they found a wet pair of gym shoes with a sole that appeared to match the prints in the snow.
At first the victim, 22-year-old Dionne Stanley, did not identify Holland, but after several minutes of discussion with police, she said Holland was her attacker and he was charged with three counts of sexual assault.
Police impounded the car and found another woman’s identification inside. When police found that woman, Ella Wembley, she said that two weeks before, on February 8, 1993, she had been picked up by two men who tried to assault her and slash her with a box cutter before she managed to flee.
Wembley identified her attackers as Holland and his uncle, Gordon Bolden. Both were charged with attempted murder.
In February 1995, Bolden and Holland waived a jury trial on the attempted murder charge and went on trial. Bolden did not testify, but Holland did, claiming that he was innocent and that the crime was committed by Bolden and someone else.
Cook County Circuit Court Judge David Erickson acquitted Bolden and convicted Holland. In March 1995, Erickson sentenced Holland to 28 years in prison.
In 1995, Chicago police crime lab analyst Pamela Fish was assigned to test biological evidence in the Stanley case and reported that she could not obtain a DNA profile because there was insufficient material to test.
In April 1997, Holland again waived a jury and went to trial on the rape charges before Cook County Circuit Court Judge Themis Karnezis. Although Stanley at first balked at identifying Holland, she ultimately identified him in court as her attacker.
Holland was convicted and sentenced to three terms of 30 years in prison, to be served consecutively and after he completed his 28-year term in the other case.
In July, 2002, after Holland wrote to the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law, attorney Karen Daniel filed a petition for DNA testing.
On September 23, 2002, testing on the biological evidence from the Stanley rape by Orchid Cellmark revealed a DNA profile that was not Holland’s. The fact that Cellmark had sufficient evidence to test while Fish said that testing was not possible raised questions about Fish—whose errors and misstatements also contributed to several other wrongful convictions. Ultimately, Fish, who later worked for the Illinois State police crime lab, resigned.
On November 8, 2002, Bolden, who had been acquitted, provided a sworn affidavit saying that he had been the driver and another man—not Holland—had been involved in the February 22, 1993 attack on Wembley.
Further DNA testing linked Bolden to that attack.
On January 30, 2003, Holland’s conviction in the Stanley rape case was vacated and the charges were dismissed.
On February 11, 2003, Holland’s conviction in the attack on Wembley on February 8, 1993, case was vacated. The defense then filed a motion to suppress Wembley's identification of Holland, given that it stemmed from Holland's arrest for the rape that DNA had proved he did not commit. At an April hearing on the motion, Stanley recanted her identification of Holland, saying she had not wanted to testify against him, and only did so after being arrested and held as a material witness. She also said that the prosecutor had pressured her to identify Holland by falsely claiming that DNA evidence had already linked him to that crime and to other rapes. The judge did not believe the recantation and denied the motion.
Holland went on trial on June 4, 2003 and was acquitted by a judge hearing the case without a jury.
On May 5, 2003, the Illinois Court of Claims awarded Holland $138,000. Holland filed a civil wrongful conviction lawsuit, but in November 2009, a federal judge found in favor of the police officers, saying they had not acted with malice.
After Holland was released and at his behest, Northwestern University School of Law's Center on Wrongful Convictions investigated the case of a fellow inmate named Christopher Coleman
. That investigation culminated with Coleman's exoneration in March 2014.
– Maurice Possley