A 56-year-old man who spent 25 years behind bars for a rape he says he didn't commit walked out of court a free man Friday after a judge recommended his aggravated rape conviction be overturned.
Johnnie Earl Lindsey said he wrote six letters to a Dallas County court seeking post-conviction DNA testing that could prove his innocence. All six were ignored, he said.
"I couldn't get nobody to hear my case," said Lindsey. "Once I could get someone to pay attention to what's going on, there was no doubt in my mind I would be exonerated."
That day came Friday, about a week after testing on DNA evidence from a rape kit taken after a 1981 sexual assault of a Dallas woman excluded Lindsey as the source.
He becomes the 20th man in Dallas County proven innocent by DNA testing since 2001, although one of those men will be retried by prosecutors. Those 20 cases are a national high for one county, according to the Innocence Project, a New York-based legal center specializing in wrongful conviction cases.
State District Judge Larry Mitchell released Lindsey on a personal recognizance bond and recommended the state Court of Criminal Appeals overturn the rape conviction. Lindsey will be considered officially exonerated once the higher court accepts the recommendation or if Gov. Rick Perry grants a pardon.
Mitchell, who was credited by Lindsey for being the first court official to take an interest in his case, delivered an impassioned apology from the bench.
"I can't tell you how sorry I am this happened to you. Your freedom was taken away from you for all these years," Mitchell said. "There's a saying that justice delayed is justice denied. Justice was delayed for too long in your case."