In April 2001, a 19-year-old woman who was a student at Penn State University, in University Park, Pennsylvania reported to police that after having several drinks at a bar, she went to a fraternity house to find her boyfriend. When she discovered he was not there, she and several other men and women went to the room of 21-year-old D. Purtell.
She said she left the room to look for her boyfriend and when she couldn’t find him, she returned to the room to get her purse. She said that Purtell closed the door and sexually assaulted her. The woman also told police that prior to that assault, she was in another bedroom where a different fraternity member assaulted her as well.
Purtell was charged with sexual assault and went to trial in Centre County Court of Common Pleas. The victim’s testimony conflicted with her earlier statements to police. The trial judge ruled that the defense could not bring up the woman’s accusation about the other alleged assault under Pennsylvania’s Rape Shield Law.
In June 2002, a jury convicted him of sexual assault and he was sentenced to 3.5-to-6 years in prison.
In April 2004, he was given the opportunity for early release if he would admit he committed the crime. He was not released because he continued to maintain his innocence.
In August 2004, the Pennsylvania Superior Court overturned the conviction and ruled that the trial court should have admitted evidence that the victim claimed to have been sexually assaulted by another fraternity member only 30 minutes earlier. The prosecution then dismissed the charge.
- Maurice Possley
The National Registry of Exonerations is a project of the Newkirk Center for Science & Society at University of California Irvine, the University of Michigan Law School and Michigan State University College of Law. It was founded in 2012 in conjunction with the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law. The Registry provides detailed information about every known exoneration in the United States since 1989—cases in which a person was wrongly convicted of a crime and later cleared of all the charges based on new evidence of innocence. The Registry also maintains a more limited database of known exonerations prior to 1989.
We welcome new information from any source about exonerations already on our list and about cases not in the Registry that might be exonerations.