updated 8/28/2007 9:13:17 PM ET 2007-08-29T01:13:17

A man who remained in prison for 18 years after being wrongly convicted of child rape was released Tuesday after new DNA testing cleared him of the crime.

Dwayne Allen Dail, now 39, hugged his attorney as Wayne County Superior Court Judge Jack Hooks Jr. set aside his conviction.

District Attorney Branny Vickory had asked the judge to dismiss the original charges against Dail because of the new test results. The tests showed that DNA found on the 12-year-old victim’s nightgown matched that of another man already in prison. The results also excluded Dail as the rapist.

“I’m a blessed man,” Dail said, hugging his mother as other crying family members stood nearby. He said he never thought the conviction would be set aside.

The girl was raped in 1987 by an intruder who entered an apartment window, and the victim later identified Dail as the attacker. Hair found at the scene was also found to be “microscopically consistent” with his.

The nonprofit North Carolina Actual Innocence Commission began looking into Dail’s case in 2001 and pushed for the new DNA testing. Christine Mumma, Dail’s attorney and director of the commission, said Dail contacted senators, governors and her organization “hoping that someone would listen to his claim of innocence.”

Clerk kept evidence from all cases
Although police, court officials and others had long said all the evidence — including a rape kit, bed sheets and a nightgown — had been destroyed, the center decided to ask one more time.

Mumma said a court clerk told her that one police officer, now deceased, kept evidence from all his cases.

She discovered that a box with the nightgown and other evidence the officer kept in his office had been checked in as evidence in the previous two years.

On Monday, the State Bureau of Investigation notified Vickory and Mumma that the test of semen recovered from the victim’s nightgown did not match Dail’s DNA.

She and Vickory said prosecutors followed existing law at the time of Dail’s trial. The nightgown was not entered as evidence in 1989 because the victim’s underwear and other personal items were considered sufficient, she said.

Mumma said she will ask Gov. Mike Easley for a pardon and compensation from the state. Dail could be entitled to $20,000 for each year of wrongful incarceration, she said.

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