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David Veney

Other Maryland Exonerations
At about 1:45 p.m. on September 24, 1996, police in Salisbury, Maryland responded to a call of a reported rape at a house on East Lincoln Avenue.

A 50-year-old woman known as A.A. told an officer that she had been in her kitchen when an unknown Black man approached her from behind, then grabbed her neck and hit her several times. The woman said after she fell to the ground, the man hit her with a chair. He then got on top of her, ripped off her shirt and bra, and scraped her chest with his nails.

The woman said the man then raped her. She didn’t know if he wore a condom but did not believe he ejaculated. At some point, she said, her dog came into the room and startled the man. A.A. said she hit the man, and he put on his clothes and left.

A.A. described the assailant as a Black man approximately 6 feet tall with a strong body odor.

A.A. went to the local hospital. Dr. Geraldine Goertzen conducted a forensic sexual-assault examination. She noted a small abrasion on A.A.’s neck, linear scratches on both of her breasts, irregular bruises on her right nipple, and vaginal bruising.

A detective processed the crime scene for evidence, recovering an apparently used condom and a condom wrapper from outside A.A.’s house. The detective also lifted four fingerprints from the rear door.

The next day, Detective Steve Schweikert met with A.A. She gave a fuller description of her attacker, including a scar on his left cheek, a goatee and a thin beard.

Also on September 25, 20-year-old David Veney went to meet with his probation officer, Christine Killmon, based on a misdemeanor conviction for theft. The reported rape, including A.A.’s description of the attacker’s body odor, had made the local news, and Killmon would later say she noticed Veney’s body odor. In addition, he also lived on Lincoln Avenue, just a block away from A.A.

Killmon called Schweikert, who assembled a photo array for A.A. to view. She tentatively identified Veney but said she wasn’t sure because the photos in the array were blurry. She then viewed the photographs on a television screen. A.A. identified Veney.

Police arrested Veney on October 5, 1996, charging him with first-degree rape and first-degree burglary.

Veney’s trial, in Wicomico County Circuit Court, began in April 1997. He was represented by Jerome Briscoe. A.A. testified about the attack, and identified Veney as the assailant. A.A. testified that she lost consciousness after the assailant hit her with a chair, and that Veney swore at her during the attack.

A.A. testified that after Veney put on his clothes and left, she cleaned up some trash, went outside and asked a neighbor named Mike to call the police. (A.A. did not have a telephone.)

Goertzen testified about her treatment and examination of A.A. She said that the scratches on A.A.’s chest were consistent with being scraped by fingernails. On cross-examination, she said that the scratches could have been self-inflicted. Goertzen also testified that she did not think A.A. mentioned losing consciousness. If A.A. had, Goertzen said, it would have been in her notes.

Officer Scott Carew, the first officer to respond, testified that A.A. did not mention a scar on the attacker’s face in her initial description.

The state stipulated that Veney was excluded as a contributor to the usable fingerprints lifted from the rear door.

Veney did not testify. Joyce Parsons, a family friend, testified that Veney was with her on September 24, during the time of the reported attack. She said she was clear about the time because it coincided with a soap opera that she watched religiously. Roshawn VanZandt said she hung out with Veney at his house in the fall of 1996, and that they frequently walked along Lincoln Avenue, passing A.A.’s house.

The jury deadlocked, and Judge Richard Warren declared a mistrial.

The retrial, presided over by Judge D. William Simpson, began in September 1997. Briscoe continued to represent Veney.

A.A.’s testimony was largely consistent with the first trial, although now she testified that the person who called the police was not Mike but two other neighbors, Bertha and Martha. She also testified that after Veney left, she took care of her dog, not the trash. She testified that she was certain that Veney was her assailant and also, on cross-examination, said that he did not have the facial characteristics she described to the police.

The state also introduced a serology report prepared by the Maryland State Police. The report covered testing of A.A.’s clothing, body, and the discarded condom. None of the testing revealed the presence of semen, and the only blood evidence, found on A.A.’s pants, was insufficient for analysis.

While the state presented its case, Briscoe learned that Goertzen, the doctor who examined A.A., was not going to be called by prosecutors. Briscoe had not independently subpoenaed her, and she did not testify.

After the state rested, Briscoe did not call any witnesses, including Parsons or VanZandt. The jury convicted Veney of first-degree rape and first-degree burglary on September 23, 1997, and he received a sentence of 25 years in prison.

At his sentencing hearing, Veney said: “If I was guilty of doing this thing, I would apologize, but I can’t apologize. I feel sorry for [A.A] for having gone through this incident, but I can’t apologize to her for me putting her through it because I am not guilty of it.”

He continued: “I was raised in a home where we were taught to fear God and to respect our elders, and that teaching has come up with me all through the years, and that’s something that is never going to leave me, and I respect her, even though I don’t know her, as a woman, as an older woman. That’s something I was instilled in me as a child, and that’s the teaching that is not going to leave me, and this crime is beyond me, is out of my nature, something that I would never do.”

In 2005, Veney filed a motion for a new trial, alleging that Briscoe provided ineffective representation at the second trial by failing to present the testimony of Goertzen, Parsons, and VanZandt.

Veney’s new attorney, James McCollum, hired an investigator who interviewed Goertzen. She told the investigators that A.A. was a “frequent flyer” in the hospital’s emergency room, although the incident in 1996 was the first time her visit to the hospital involved an allegation of rape.

“I was called to testify as a witness for the state,” she said. “However on cross-examination I testified that her so-called injuries could easily have been self-inflicted. There were other factors, her manner, her personality, and her dubious credibility. All of it made me very suspicious about the rape.” Goertzen said she was surprised the state hadn’t dropped the charges against Vesey after the hung jury.

The motion also said that Briscoe failed to challenge A.A.’s identification of Veney in the two photo arrays. A.A. had told the police that her assailant had a scar on his left cheek, a goatee and a thin beard. In the photos of Veney that A.A. selected, he had none of these features.

Prosecutors in the Wicomico County State’s Attorney’s Office reviewed the petition and agreed that Veney’s conviction should be vacated based on ineffective assistance of counsel. A judge granted the motion on May 25, 2005, and the charges were dismissed on July 15, 2005. Veney was released from prison that day.

On December 20, 2021, Veney, still represented by McCollum, filed a claim for state compensation for his wrongful conviction.

The Prosecution Integrity Unit (PIU) in the Wicomico County State’s Attorney’s Office investigated the claim, re-interviewing many of the witnesses from both trials, including Goertzen, Parsons, and Van Zandt. (A.A. had died in 2018).

Goertzen told the PIU that A.A. suffered from anxiety and was a frequent visitor to the hospital’s emergency room. She said that she couldn’t recall another case where a victim of sexual assault said they were scratched in the manner consistent with A.A.’ s injuries. Goertzen said A.A.’s account would have been more credible if she acknowledged scratching herself after the assault.

The PIU also interviewed Elizabeth Ireland, who prosecuted Veney at both trials. Ireland wrote to the governor of Maryland on behalf of Veney in 2010, when he sought a pardon. Ireland told the PIU that she learned in 2005 that A.A. had a significant history of crimes involving dishonesty and might have falsely accused another man of rape. (That man, Grant Jones, was exonerated in August 203.)

Teresa Garland, an administrative law judge for the Maryland Office of Administrative Hearings, held an evidentiary hearing on January 12, 2023.

On April 10, 2023, Judge Garland ruled that Veney was eligible for state compensation and declared that he was innocent.

“Considering the evidence uncovered by the [PIU] investigation, the additional information provided by the Claimant, the affirmative evidence of the Claimant’s innocence, and the absence of any credible evidence implicating him, the parties agree that the Claimant is actually innocent of the rape of [A.A.],” the ruling said.

Judge Garland recommended that the state’s Board of Public Works award Veney $716,677 in compensation, along with $8,471 in attorney’s fees for McCollum.

The Board of Public Works approved the payment on May 17, 2023. “We cannot put a price tag on what you lost,” said Governor Wes Moore, a member of the board. “And we all know that that is time that you will never be able to get back. But the payments that we are authorizing today, they do represent a formal acknowledgement from the state of Maryland for the injustice that was caused.”

Veney attended the board meeting and said he greatly appreciated the state’s apology. “To walk into my home at the time, and the first thing I see was my face on the TV wanted for a rape that I certainly did not commit and then found out didn’t happen at all, it has been a burden that I can’t articulate and I’m thankful that 26 years later I’m finally vindicated.”

– Ken Otterbourg

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Posting Date: 6/14/2023
Last Updated: 9/6/2023
Most Serious Crime:Sexual Assault
Additional Convictions:Burglary/Unlawful Entry
Reported Crime Date:1996
Sentence:25 years
Age at the date of reported crime:20
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No