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Bobby Townsend

Other Mississippi Exonerations
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On June 1, 1998, Lucy O’Bryant, an aide at a nursing home in Eupora, Mississippi, reported to police that an 80-year-old resident suffering from Alzheimer’s disease had been raped.

O’Bryant said she came into the patient’s room and saw 43-year-old Bobby Townsend, a member of the housekeeping staff, having sexual intercourse with the woman. O’Bryant said that she ordered Townsend out of the room, and then bathed the patient and gave her a new gown.

Townsend denied the crime when questioned by Webster County Sheriff’s deputies. He was arrested and charged with raping the woman, who was a relative of the Webster County Sheriff.

Townsend went to trial in Webster County Circuit Court in January 1999. O’Bryant testified that she came into the room and saw Townsend with his pants pulled down, sexually assaulting the woman. O’Bryant said she ordered Townsend out of the room and then cleaned up the woman. In response to questions by the prosecutor, Mickey Mallette, O’Bryant said that Townsend had ejaculated.

Cross-examined about why she waited two days to report the assault, O’Bryant said she went to the police station after she got off work on the day of the alleged assault to report it to an officer she knew, but didn’t report anything because he was not there. She said she left a voice message on the officer’s home telephone. O’Bryant also said she told a co-worker about the assault.

The prosecution presented no forensic or physical evidence. Townsend’s defense attorney, Richard Burdine, later said that the prosecutor told him before trial that the prosecution would not present any forensic evidence because the lab tests were not complete and “nothing had been found to testify about.”

Townsend testified and denied committing the crime.

On January 20, 1999, the jury convicted Townsend of rape. He was sentenced to 30 years in prison.

The Townsend family hired attorney Robert McDuff to appeal the conviction. McDuff discovered that contrary to Mallette’s assertion, the crime lab had completed initial tests. When those tests were negative for the presence of semen, the lab was instructed to do no further testing. Moreover, McDuff uncovered reports by hospital personnel who had examined the woman and reported that they couldn’t find any physical evidence of assault, such as bruises or other signs of trauma.

Based on the newly discovered evidence, the Mississippi Supreme Court remanded the case to the trial court for a hearing on a motion for new trial. McDuff arranged to send the physical evidence at the Mississippi State crime lab to the Tarrant County, Texas crime lab for analysis. The Tarrant County lab reported that it found no semen on the woman’s gown or bedding, or any other evidence of sexual assault.

Dr. Leroy Riddick, the Alabama State Medical Examiner, reviewed the medical and lab reports and concluded “that even two days after the fact, and even though the patient had been cleaned in the interim, he would have expected to discover traces of semen and also would have expected to discover bruising, tearing or other trauma in the vaginal area and elsewhere on the body of an 80-year-old nursing home patient who obviously had been sexually inactive for some time.”

In December 2000, McDuff presented the new forensic evidence at a hearing on a motion for a new trial. McDuff also presented a sworn affidavit from O’Bryant’s co-worker that contrary to O’Bryant’s testimony at trial, O’Bryant had never told her about the assault. The police officer that O’Bryant said she called and left a message about the assault also provided a sworn affidavit, saying that no such message was left on his answering machine.

On December 11, 2000, the motion for a new trial was granted because of the prosecution’s failure to disclose the evidence from the crime lab and the hospital reports.

Townsend went to trial a second time in March 2001 in adjacent Montgomery County after the court granted the defense’s request for a change of venue. On March 20, 2001, the jury acquitted Townsend and he was released.

In 2010, the state of Mississippi awarded Townsend $83,333 in compensation.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 12/16/2016
State:Mississippi
County:Webster
Most Serious Crime:Sexual Assault
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:1998
Convicted:1999
Exonerated:2001
Sentence:30 years
Race:Black
Sex:Male
Age at the date of crime:43
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct, Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No