Thomas Webb, III

A little before 1:00 AM on March 20, 1982, the victim was lying in bed when she heard a thump. She remained in bed for another ten minutes or so before rising to go to the bathroom. Her apartment was dark except for a dim light from another room and natural light coming in the windows. On her way to the bathroom, the victim saw the dim figure of a man in her den. She called out her boyfriend's name. There was no response and the man disappeared. She then turned on a light and began to walk forward when the man came around the corner and grabbed her, pushed her down the hall, turned off the hall light, and pushed her face down on the bathroom rug, telling her to be quiet. The man forced his penis into her mouth and then sexually assaulted her. He then pushed her into the den and began going through her purse. Eventually, he asked the victim to unlock the front door and he left. She called in her dog, turned on lights, and put on her robe before calling her boyfriend. Her boyfriend arrived and called the police.
 
The victim identified Webb from a photo line-up. She was originally shown a group of six black-and-white photographs but was unable to pick her assailant with certainty. A new line-up was constructed at her request, this one containing six color photographs. Only two of the pictures in the color line-up were of people depicted in the first line-up, one of which was Webb and the other a man who did not fit the victim's initial description. A criminalist testified that two scalp hairs and one pubic hair found at the scene were consistent with hair samples from Webb. Because there is not adequate empirical data on the frequency of various class characteristics in human hair, an analyst’s assertion that hairs are consistent or similar is inherently prejudicial and lacks probative value.
 
The photo line-up was thought to be overly suggestive, thus tainting the in-court identification and the line-up itself. The defense claimed that identification would be nearly impossible anyway because it was too dark in the apartment to see. The jury was not warned against the imperfections of eyewitness identification. Technical reports on evidence testified to at trial were not submitted to the defense. All of the claims were deemed to be without merit and the original verdict and sentence were affirmed.
 
Webb gained access to the biological evidence in 1996. After DNA testing was conducted and the results were exculpatory, a new trial was ordered.
 
Webb was eventually exonerated and released - over thirteen years after his wrongful conviction.  
 
Summary courtesy of the Innocence Project, http://www.innocenceproject.org/. Reproduced with permission.

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State:Oklahoma
County:Cleveland
Most Serious Crime:Sexual Assault
Additional Convictions:Robbery
Reported Crime Date:1982
Convicted:1983
Exonerated:1996
Sentence:60 years
Race:Black
Sex:Male
Age:22
Contributing Factors:Mistaken Witness ID, False or Misleading Forensic Evidence
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:Yes