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Calvin Wayne Cunningham

Other Virginia DNA Exonerations
On May 24, 1979, the superintendent of an apartment complex in Newport News, Virginia, was asleep on her couch when someone entered her apartment around 4 a.m. and raped her.

When the victim said her attacker was the man who lived across the hall, 26-year-old Calvin Wayne Cunningham was arrested and charged with the attack.

At the time, forensic examination of the rape kit could not prove Cunningham was the attacker, but it was also unable to exclude him. The only other forensic evidence was a chest hair found on the victim’s body, which the forensic analyst was willing to characterize as “similar” but not “consistent” with Cunningham’s hair. The analyst did not present qualifying information about the limitations of hair microscopy. No fingerprints or any other physical evidence connected Cunningham to the victim’s apartment.

Based on the woman’s identification, Cunningham was convicted of rape and burglary charges on June 19, 1981. He was sentenced to 5 years in prison on the burglary charge and 20 years in prison on the rape charge.
After spending more than seven years in prison, Cunningham was released on parole.
In 2005, then-Governor Mark Warner ordered testing of biological evidence from 1973 through 1988 that was discovered in the files of deceased crime lab analyst Mary Jane Burton. The order came after six  other defendants were exonerated by DNA testing on biological evidence found in Burton's files: Marvin Anderson, Julius Ruffin, Arthur Whitfield, Willie Davidson, Philip Thurman and Thomas Haynesworth.

In February, 2010, DNA testing on the biological evidence in Cunningham’s case eliminated him as the assailant. Cunningham, who was on the sex offender registry in Virginia, contacted the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project, which filed a request for a Writ of Actual Innocence.

On April 12, 2011, the Virginia Supreme Court granted the writ. Cunningham was back in prison serving a four-year prison term for theft and other non-violent charges. A bill was introduced in the Legislature to provide $232,000 in compensation, but it was withdrawn.
By the end of 2013, four more wrongfully convicted inmates had been exonerated by DNA testing of evidence from Burton's files: Victor Burnette, Curtis Moore, Bennett Barbour and Garry Diamond.

In 2018, Roy Watford III became the 12th person to be exonerated by DNA testing of evidence in Burton’s files. In 2019, Winston Scott became the 13th person exonerated by DNA evidence retained in Burton’s files.

Cunningham, according to an interview with the Richmond Times-Dispatch, could not find a job after his release and he developed a drug problem. That led to him going back to prison for other crimes in 1999, 2001, 2005 and 2009. On May 3, 2021, he was granted a compassionate release because he was suffering from cancer. Cunningham died seven days later, on May 10.
– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date:  Before June 2012
Last Updated: 5/4/2021
County:Newport News City
Most Serious Crime:Sexual Assault
Additional Convictions:Burglary/Unlawful Entry
Reported Crime Date:1979
Sentence:16 years
Age at the date of reported crime:26
Contributing Factors:Mistaken Witness ID, False or Misleading Forensic Evidence
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:Yes