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Steve Titus


On October 12, 1980, a 17-year-old girl was raped in an isolated area just south of the Seattle-Tacoma airport, and she described her attacker as a white man with a beard who was driving a blue car.
 
The same night, Steve Titus was out in Seattle with his fiancée, celebrating her 21st birthday, when he was pulled over by police. Titus, who had no criminal record other than a driving citation, agreed to be photographed by police after they informed him that a man fitting his physical description who was also driving a blue car had raped a teenager near the airport that evening.
 
Titus was not concerned by the encounter with police, but two days later, police officers showed up at his office and arrested him for the rape. Police informed Titus that the victim had picked his photograph out of a photo lineup. She reportedly said, “This one is the closest. It has to be the one.”
 
At Titus’s trial in February 1981, the victim identified Titus in court, and he was convicted of first-degree rape on March 4, 1981, despite significant evidence suggesting his innocence. After his conviction but prior to his sentencing, Titus compiled a list of 70 discrepancies in his case and reached out to the Seattle Times with his claims innocence. 43-year-old Paul Henderson, at reporter at the Seattle Times, was intrigued by Titus’s claims and began investigating the case.
 
Working off the information Titus had provided, Henderson discovered that a similar rape had occurred in the same location just six days before the rape at issue in Titus’s case. The victim in that case was a 15-year-old girl, and when she was presented with Titus’s photo in a lineup, she ignored it. Based on the information highlighted by Paul Henderson’s articles, the police reopened Titus’s case and continued investigating. King County Superior Court Judge Charles V. Johnson agreed to delay sentencing Titus. Police soon arrested Edward Lee King in connection with both the rapes that had occurred near the airport. King admitted he had committed both crimes.
 
Upon viewing Edward Lee King’s photo, the victim who had identified Titus began to cry and said, “Oh my God, what have I done to Mr. Titus?” Judge Johnson overturned Titus’s conviction and dismissed the charges against him. After the dismissal, Titus stated that he had lost everything. “I lost my fiancée because I spent so much time dwelling on this, and I’ve changed. I’m not the person she knew. I lost my job, my family lost their savings, $9,000. I owe $3,000 to my attorney.”
 
In 1982, Paul Henderson was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for his investigative reporting regarding Titus’s case. Titus filed a $20 million lawsuit against the Port of Seattle alleging wrongdoing that led to his wrongful conviction. The lawsuit accused Port of Seattle Officer Ronald A. Parker of gross negligence and intentional disregard for the constitutional rights of Titus. However, Titus, who was in his mid-30’s, died of a heart attack on February 2, 1985 while the case was pending. Several months later, Titus’s lawsuit was settled out of court, and his teenage son, Ken Titus, was awarded $2.8 million in damages on behalf of his father.
 
– Meghan Barrett Cousino
State:WA
County:King
Most Serious Crime:Rape
Reported Crime Date:1980
Convicted:1981
Exonerated:1981
Sentence:Not sentenced
Race:Caucasian
Sex:Male
Age at the date of crime:31
Contributing Factors:Mistaken Witness ID, Official Misconduct