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DNA exonerates Georgia man after three decades of imprisonment

Ray White

From the Georgia Innocence Project:

Surrounded by his family, friends and legal team, Ray White walked out of the Columbia County Courthouse in Evans today a free man shortly after a Superior Court judge overturned his 1996 wrongful conviction. Since he was first wrongfully accused almost 30 years ago of an attack on a woman that he had absolutely nothing to do with, Ray has continuously proclaimed his innocence and decried his wrongful conviction and incarceration.

Now, Ray finally will be able to live a full life and enjoy the many freedoms that have long been denied to him.  

Ray explained, “I am very sorry for what happened to her, but it wasn’t me. On July 5th, 1994, we were both forever damaged. Now is the time to heal.”

Part of the healing and recovery process includes reflecting on and learning from the underlying harm. Ray’s case is a stark example of the many ways the criminal legal system can and does fail. Though he had a rock-solid, confirmed alibi, no physical evidence linking him to the crime, and no motive or opportunity to attack the victim, a jury convicted Ray based solely on an  unreliable and externally influenced eyewitness identification. He was sentenced to life in prison, plus two concurrent twenty-year sentences for kidnapping with bodily injury, aggravated assault with intent to rape, and burglary.

Not only did Ray spend 25 years incarcerated for a crime he did not commit, but his parole conditions over the past three years left him closely monitored and banished from the county where his family lives and his mother is buried, unable to attend church or go to a gym or a park, and unable to be around his young grandkids.

Ray White (third from left) standing outside the Columbia County Courthouse on May 22, 2024 with his legal team from GIP, Jones Day, and Mercer Habeas Project.

Georgia Innocence Project accepted Ray’s case over a decade ago after recognizing the weaknesses in the identification and the strength of Ray’s alibi. GIP began looking for physical evidence to prove the identity of the actual perpetrator, and eventually tracked down the victim’s pants, ripped at the waist by the assailant.  GIP sought to have the pants tested at the rip site for contact DNA transferred from the perpetrator’s hands via skin cells. However, the then-district attorney opposed testing, saying that the pants, which had been in the state's control since the attack, had been stored in a non-temperature controlled warehouse for years and so would not provide any useful genetic information.

The trial court denied DNA testing, but GIP appealed the decision. The Georgia Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the trial court had misapplied Georgia’s post-conviction DNA testing statute. The DA’s office then consented to the testing, which excluded Ray as a contributor to the male DNA found on the victim’s pants at the rip site. 

Even after profound flaws in Ray’s conviction were uncovered and disclosed, and even after it became common knowledge that eyewitness misidentification is the #1 cause of wrongful conviction cases like Ray’s, and even after DNA tests reinforced Ray’s claims of innocence, the best the criminal legal system would do for Ray was allow him to enter an Alford plea to lesser charges. Ray could still maintain his innocence and all parole conditions would be immediately terminated. 

At 63 years old, Ray chose to enter the agreement in order to put his wrongful conviction behind him, with the goal of spending his remaining years living life to the fullest with his wife Paula and their children and grandchildren – a free man for the first time since his thirties. 

GIP represents Ray White along with co-counsel Meagan Hurley of the Mercer Law School Habeas Project and Jones Day attorneys David E. Nahmias, Meghan Breen, and Kendall Runyan. Nahmias, who served as Chief Justice of the Georgia Supreme Court and U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia, said the following today in court:

“We have carefully reviewed the record in this case, and it demonstrates that Ray White is innocent of the crimes he was accused of committing in 1994, for which he unjustly served 25 years in prison. The deficiencies in the investigation of this case are appalling. The investigators used a series of improper procedures that led to the victim’s misidentification of Mr. White, they did nothing to disprove his remarkably strong alibi, and they failed to pursue clues that could have led to the actual attacker. We do not blame the victim, who suffered a brutal attack; the investigation failed her as much as it failed Mr. White. The new DNA evidence further confirms his innocence.

Ray White should be completely exonerated, but we acknowledge that the identification evidence, however dubious, provides evidence that a jury could use to wrongfully convict him—as happened in his 1996 trial. So an Alfordplea is in Mr. White’s interest, and we appreciate the District Attorney’s willingness to at least allow this case to be reopened and resolved in a way that will allow Ray White to live his remaining years as a free man. And we appreciate the Court’s willingness to accept the agreement the parties have reached to resolve this case.”

In addition to co-counsel, GIP is also grateful to the several interns who worked tirelessly on Ray’s case over the years. We look forward to welcoming Ray into the community of innocent freed and exonerated people and the GIP family. 

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And what are the names of the detectives and District Attorney that set this guy up? They are to blame and their names posted. Shameful.

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