The number of Texas prisoners cleared by DNA evidence grew Monday, after the Tarrant County District Attorney’s Office announced that recently tested DNA evidence proves that a Fort Worth man who spent 23 years in prison for rape could not have committed the crime.
The 14-year-old victim’s testimony had identified David Lee Wiggins, 48, as the perpetrator in her 1989 rape. Her attacker broke into her house and covered her face with a towel during the rape, but she was able to peek at his face three times, according to a press release (PDF) from the DA’s office.
Attorneys from the Innocence Project first asked the court for DNA testing in 2007. The result of those tests was inconclusive: according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram‘s Deanna Boyd “no male DNA profile could be detected in sperm found on her underwear and from a rape kit.” So, in 2010, the Innocence Project requested further, more sophisticated testing. On August 9, the laboratory “informed the District Attorney’s Office it was able to detect a sperm cell fraction on the girl’s clothing that excluded Wiggins.”
Wiggins was at prison choir practice in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s Goree Unit when his attorney, Nina Morrison, called him with the news that the DA’s office was convinced of his innocence, Boyd reported.
“We will continue to cooperate with legitimate requests for post-conviction testing,” Tarrant County District Attorney Joe Shannon said in a statement. “The job of this office is not just to convict, but to see that justice is done.”
Shannon’s office recommends that Wiggins be released on bond until the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals issues a final ruling in his case. That hearing is set for Friday in the 213th District Court.
“Wiggins is the second Tarrant County defendant to be cleared by post-conviction DNA testing,” Boyd reported. DNA evidence has cleared the names of at least 47 prisoners in Texas, including Wiggins, according to the Innocence Project’s tally.
Wiggins must receive a declaration of “actual innocence” from a court before he can receive compensation for each year he was incarcerated from the state.