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Timothy Bridges

Other North Carolina Rape Exonerations
On May 15, 1989, 83-year-old Modine Wise was found severely beaten in her home in Charlotte, North Carolina. Wise, who was in failing health and used a wheelchair, gave only a vague description of her attacker.

In March 1990, police charged 23-year-old Timothy Bridges with first-degree rape, assault with a deadly weapon and burglary. In August 1990, Wise died.

Bridges went to trial in Mecklenburg County Superior Court in January 1991. A state crime lab analyst who had been trained in microscopic hair analysis by the Federal Bureau of Investigation testified that two hairs found at the scene came from Bridges. The analyst testified that he could make a “strong identification” that the hair at the scene was Bridges’ hair and that there was only a 1 in 1000 chance that two Caucasian people, such as Bridges, would have indistinguishable head hair.

The prosecution also called three informants who testified that Bridges had admitted the crime to them during various conversations. The informants denied they received any benefits for their testimony and a police officer also denied any benefits were offered or conferred for the testimony.

Although the victim had denied she had been raped, a physician who examined her said she found bruising consistent with rape. Even though there was a rape kit prepared, there was no indication that it was tested at the time.

The attorney for Bridges, who maintained his innocence, argued that a bloody palm print found on a wall in the victim’s home—which did not match the victim or Bridges—was left by the perpetrator.

On February 2, 1991, the jury convicted Bridges of all charges. He was sentenced to life in prison.

In 2013, after three men who had been convicted on the basis of improper FBI testimony about hair analysis were exonerated by DNA, the Innocence Project and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers convinced the FBI to audit cases where FBI agents had testified about or conducted microscopic hair analysis.

In 2015, the FBI identified 268 cases where FBI agents linked defendants to crimes through hair analysis and 257 of those cases—96 percent—involved scientifically invalid testimony, such as saying that hairs were a positive match or giving unsupported mathematical odds of a match. Twenty-seven of 29 analysts either gave faulty testimony or submitted erroneous reports.

In April 2015, the Washington Post newspaper reported that flawed testimony by either FBI agents or crime lab analysts trained by the FBI likely affected as many as 2,500 cases across the country.

Bridges’ case was one of the first to be examined that involved an FBI-trained analyst rather than an actual FBI agent. Lauren Miller at North Carolina Prisoner Legal Services, Inc., had investigated Bridges’ case for years and had been told by Mecklenburg County authorities that any physical evidence in the case no longer existed. In October 2014, Miller filed a motion seeking to vacate Bridges’ conviction.

Shortly after that, Innocence Project attorneys Chris Fabricant and Dana Delger joined the case as co-counsel. In October 2015, after reviewing the case, Mecklenburg District Attorney Andrew Murray agreed to vacate Bridges’ conviction. At the time, Murray said, “The criminal justice system is constantly evolving with advances in science, and any time the D.A.’s Office is made aware of cases in which inappropriate scientific testimony contributed to a conviction, prosecutors have an obligation to act.” Bridges was released on bond on October 1, 2015. Three days before Bridges was released, the prosecution said that although the hairs and rape kit had been destroyed, a jacket that was found near the victim at the time of the crime had been discovered. The jacket was submitted for DNA testing and semen was identified. A DNA profile from the semen excluded Bridges as the source of the semen. Moreover, a review of the police files revealed that the investigators threatened to bring charges against some of the informants who testified that Bridges confessed to them, and offered to give those informants breaks in their own prosecutions or payments of money in exchange for testimony. None of this evidence was disclosed to Bridges’ defense at his 1991 trial.

On February 16, 2016, District Attorney Murray dismissed the charges.
In August 2016, Bridges filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city of Charlotte. In November 2016, North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory granted Bridges a pardon based on actual innocence. In December 2017, the city of Charlotte agreed to settle the lawsuit for $9.5 million. Bridges also was awarded $750,000 in state compensation.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 3/7/2016
Last Updated: 2/8/2018
State:North Carolina
Most Serious Crime:Sexual Assault
Additional Convictions:Assault, Burglary/Unlawful Entry
Reported Crime Date:1989
Age at the date of reported crime:22
Contributing Factors:False or Misleading Forensic Evidence, Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:Yes*