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Steven Fossum


Convicted of aggravated rape in Harris County, Texas, in 1984, Steven Lynn Fossum was pardoned by Texas Governor Mark White in 1986 after new forensic evidence of Fossum’s innocence that was brought to light in a special report by WCCO television in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
 
On August 14, 1983, a woman was raped after being abducted from her car, which was parked outside a convenience store in Harris County, Texas. She reported the rape to police and went to the emergency room at Houston Northwest Hospital. Laboratory analysis showed human seminal fluid on her underwear and non-motile spermatozoa on the vaginal smear.
 
Steven Fossum, a 23-year-old with a history of violent behavior, worked for a Houston water supply company. He had recently moved to Texas from Minnesota, where he had served time for a rape in 1982 and was on probation. Fossum was identified by the rape victim in a photo spread. Although his roommate testified that Fossum was home watching television at the time of the rape, he was convicted and sentenced to 12 years in prison.
 
In 1986, Minneapolis reporter Andy Greenspan and a team from WCCO, a Minneapolis television station, learned of Fossum’s story from a newspaper report concerning the appeal that had been filed in his case. As they reviewed the case, they became convinced of Fossum’s innocence. One of their most important findings came from laboratory tests, completed in California, which revealed that semen samples taken from the victim and her clothing did not match Fossum’s semen. In May of 1986, their report was aired in Minneapolis and in Houston. The WCCO team showed their findings to Minneapolis attorney, Ron Meshbesher, who agreed to take Fossum’s case pro bono. He shared the report with Houston attorney and friend, John Ackerman, and enlisted his help in the case. Ackerman was eager to demonstrate that eyewitness testimony was unreliable and could send men and women to prison, only to be found innocent at a later date.
 
Harris County District Attorney John B. Holmes, who was initially critical of the television station and of the California laboratory results, ordered further testing on Fossum’s semen at the Texas Department of Public Safety to demonstrate that the California results were unreliable. However, the tests confirmed the California results and Holmes joined Ackerman and Meshbesher in a request to the Texas governor for a full pardon. The time limit in Texas for filing a motion for a new trial based on newly discovered evidence had expired.
 
On July 24, 1986, Texas Governor Mark White pardoned Fossum as a result of a recommendation from the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles and evidence submitted by District Attorney Holmes.
 
When he was released, Fossum was elated, but said: “That’s all they wanted was a conviction.  It didn’t matter whether they convicted a guilty guy or an innocent guy.”
 
-  Gary Tomlinson
State:TX
County:Harris
Most Serious Crime:Rape
Reported Crime Date:1983
Convicted:1984
Exonerated:1986
Sentence:5 to 12 years
Race:Caucasian
Sex:Male
Age at the date of crime:23
Contributing Factors:Mistaken Witness ID