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Jules Letemps

Other Florida Cases
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On May 29, 1989, between 4:30 a.m. and 5 a.m., a young woman on her way to work was waiting for a bus in Orlando, Florida. A man approached her and put a metal object, possibly a knife, to her neck. He then led her to a bushy area behind a nearby building where he forced her to disrobe and sexually assaulted her repeatedly.

The woman managed to escape when she noticed her assailant was no longer holding the metal object. Naked, she ran down the street screaming and banging on doors seeking help. One homeowner, Sherman Williams, opened his door and gave her his bathrobe. He then called the police who immediately responded but had difficulty interviewing the woman because she spoke only Spanish. Eventually a Spanish-speaking officer arrived and obtained a description of the attacker as a black man wearing a navy blue and white shirt, jeans and sneakers. The victim refused to go to the hospital for an examination and so no rape kit was obtained. She told the police she did not want to prosecute anyone and signed a form stating she was refusing to prosecute.

She was taken home by the police where she showered and douched before calling her cousin who came over to her house. The woman and her cousin then went back to the area where the assault occurred to look for her assailant. Shortly after returning to the scene, the woman saw 26-year-old Jules Letemps walking on the street and identified him as her attacker. The victim and her cousin then summoned a police officer who arrested Letemps.

Letemps, a Haitian immigrant who spoke little English, explained that he was walking to a nearby Toyota dealership where he worked as a maintenance man cleaning cars and knew nothing about any assault.

Letemps was arrested and charged with three counts of sexual assault and one count of kidnapping.

In November 1989, Letemps went to trial in Orange County Circuit Court. The victim identified Letemps as her assailant and said that when she pointed him out on the street, he threatened to kill her. Williams testified that the victim, who was naked, had come to his door for help, and that he gave her his robe to wear and called police.

Nancy Rathman, a forensic analyst, testified that she examined the robe and found a semen stain. She said, however, that the stain was so diluted that a blood typing test would “not show you anything.”

The defense called Letemps’s live-in girlfriend and a roommate who said that he was in the house until he left to walk to work at about 7 a.m.—more than hour after the woman was attacked. Letemps testified and denied involvement in the crime. He admitted he threatened to kill the woman when he was arrested, but told the jury he said it “because I was scared what she said I do, try to take my life away from me, tell me I rape her. That’s make me say that, and I don’t mean to say that.”

On November 21, 1989, after a two-day trial during which Letemps’s defense attorney did not cross-examine any of the police officers who testified for the prosecution, Letemps was convicted of three counts of sexual assault and kidnapping. He was sentenced to four consecutive terms of life in prison.

Over the next 20 years, Letemps, who was fluent only in Creole and could not read or write English, filed numerous post-conviction petitions with the help of fellow inmates, attempting to overturn his convictions, but he was not successful.

In 2003, he sought help from the Innocence Project of Florida. When investigators learned that the physical evidence had been destroyed in 1997 and no DNA testing could be performed, no further action was taken.

In 2010, Centurion Ministries, a New Jersey-based non-profit, began examining his case. Kate Germond, the current Executive Director of Centurion, retained attorney Paul Casteleiro to represent Letemps. Casteleiro discovered in the prosecution’s file cassette tapes of various pretrial depositions that had never been transcribed. One recording was the deposition of Nancy Rathman, in which she explained to Letemps’s attorney the testing procedures she used to analyze a semen stain found on the robe.

Rathman explained that she had been able to identify only blood type O—the same type as the victim’s, who was a secretor. A secretor’s blood type can be determined by analyzing sweat, saliva or vaginal fluid using the ABO blood typing techniques used in 1989. Letemps‘s blood type is B and he is also a secretor, which means the testing should have excluded him as the source of the semen on the robe.

On the tape, Rathman said that based on the testing standard she used, the stain was too diluted to positively rule out Letemps even though no blood type B was found.

Centurion obtained Rathman’s lab notes, had her deposition transcribed, and retained a number of experts in serology to review the document. The experts concluded that Rathman had applied an incorrect standard to determine that the stain was too diluted. They also excluded Letemps as the source of the semen, which—according to the prosecution maintained at trial—came from the woman’s attacker.

Centurion then enlisted Seth Miller, Executive Director for the Innocence Project of Florida, as additional counsel and filed a motion for post-conviction relief in Orange County Circuit Court claiming actual innocence and ineffective assistance of counsel. The court, however, denied the petition, and the appellate court affirmed.

Casteleiro then filed a federal petition for a writ of habeas corpus. On July 20, 2015, U.S. District Judge Gregory Presnell granted the writ and ordered a new trial for Letemps.

The judge ruled that Letemps’s trial attorney had provided an inadequate legal defense by failing to investigate Rathman’s analysis. The judge was also critical of the trial lawyer’s failure to cross-examine a police officer whose report said Letemps was walking northbound when arrested—which comported with Letemps’s testimony that he was walking to work—but at trial testified that Letemps was southbound.

Presnell concluded that the new evidence, combined with Letemps’s alibi testimony, raised doubt sufficient to undermine confidence in the convictions. “When confronted with this evidence, no reasonable juror would have convicted Letemps,” the judge declared.

On October 14, 2016, two days before the retrial was to begin, the prosecution dismissed the charges.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 10/26/2016
State:Florida
County:Orange
Most Serious Crime:Sexual Assault
Additional Convictions:Kidnapping
Reported Crime Date:1989
Convicted:1989
Exonerated:2016
Sentence:Life
Race:Black
Sex:Male
Age at the date of crime:26
Contributing Factors:Mistaken Witness ID, False or Misleading Forensic Evidence, Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No