A man who spent 19 years behind bars for a rape he didn’t commit was released from prison Monday after new tests of DNA evidence cleared him.
Friends and family broke into applause when a county judge dismissed charges against Thomas A. Doswell. About 30 minutes later, Doswell walked out of the county jail a free man — expressing thanks, not bitterness.
“I’m thankful to be home,” he told The Associated Press from his mother’s house. “I’m thankful justice has been served. The court system is not perfect, but it works.”
Doswell, 46, was convicted in the 1986 rape of a 48-year-old woman at a hospital in Pittsburgh. When he was convicted, he was 25 and the father of two young children.
He was sentenced to 13 to 26 years in prison and was denied parole four times because he refused to accept responsibility for the crime.
Prosecutors originally opposed DNA testing for Doswell, but a judge ordered it. When the tests came back last month showing that semen taken from the victim was not from Doswell, prosecutors filed motions to vacate his sentence and release him.
“These tests confirmed what Mr. Doswell has been saying from the moment he was charged, that he was innocent and that this was a misidentification brought about by police officers who may have engaged in misconduct,” said Colin Starger of the Innocence Project at the Benjamin N. Cardoza School of Law at Yeshiva University in New York.
The victim and another witness had picked out Doswell’s photo from a group of eight shown to them by police.
Marked with an ‘R’
At the time, Pittsburgh police identified mug shots of people charged with rape with the letter “R.” Doswell insisted witnesses identified him as the rapist only because the letter “R” appeared under his mug shot.
His photo was marked because an ex-girlfriend had accused him of rape, but he was acquitted of that charge. Police officials say they no longer mark photos of rape suspects with an “R.”
Authorities plan to compare the DNA sample taken from the victim with national databanks, but so far do not have any suspects.
Although Doswell spent nearly two decades in prison, neither he nor his family said they were angry.
Productive time behind bars
“I couldn’t walk around with anger and bitterness,” said Doswell, speaking on a cell phone for what he said was the first time. “It would have done me more harm than good.”
Doswell spent his years in prison getting an associate’s degree, learning to speak Spanish and mastering seven musical instruments, including the guitar, saxophone, flute, drums and trumpet.
“I am so happy to be actually seeing him at home instead of in jail,” said Crystal Glover, Doswell’s girlfriend. “Now we can get on with our lives.”