Life Plus Cancer in Old Dominion

Jeralyn Merritt at  TalkLeft came up with this charming sentence, for those who thought a life sentence wasn’t harsh enough.  For Bennett Barbour, convicted of rape in 1978, it applied

Investigators knocked on Bennett S. Barbour’s door on Valentine’s Day 1978 and arrested him on a charge of raping a College of William and Mary student at gunpoint a week earlier.

The slight, 22-year-old handyman from rural Charles City County had been married just a few months when he was taken into custody, the romantic greeting card and box of candy for his pregnant wife left unopened.

Today, Barbour is a divorced, 56-year-old convicted sex offender who has bone cancer, and who desperately wants to clear his name. “I ended up losing my wife,” he said. “I told them I didn’t do it, but they railroaded me and locked me up.”

Now, the state has proof that he is innocent.

Today, the judge in his case and his defense lawyer are both dead.  The prosecutor can’t remember him, and the trial transcript is long lost.  But Barbour is now conclusively proven innocent of the rape by DNA, which the prosecution has known for 18 months.  Why it took so long to reach closure isn’t clear, but everyone now concedes that he’s innocent.

Then again, no one was all that convinced at the time he was convicted.

Arrest records show Barbour was 5 feet 6 inches tall and weighed 115 pounds at the time. The victim was 5 feet 8 and weighed 135 pounds, Barbour said.

Also, a March 24, 1978, forensic lab report obtained by Barbour’s current lawyers shows that even the relatively crude blood typing performed on seminal fluid left by the assailant strongly suggested that Barbour was not the attacker. The seminal fluid was left by someone who is Type A, as was the victim. Barbour is Type B.

And “negro” hairs taken from the crime scene were said to be “not consistent” with a sample from Barbour, the report said.

Still, the jury found Barbour guilty, siding with the identification made by the 19-year-old victim who, according to a probation office report, identified him by police mug shots and in a lineup.

And if that’s not enough, consider:

Barbour had a solid alibi; he did not match the suspect’s description; he has brittle bone disease; and he did not have a gun, said Enright.

“But (the victim’s) identification of him still wins that contest.”

Of course, eyewitness IDs are easily challenged through the usual means. No reason to worry there, according to our Supreme Court

Fortunately, Barbour wasn’t sitting in a cell the whole time, having received a ten year sentence and been released on his first parole date.  Even the cops who investigated him and the probation officer who wrote him up suggested that he might not be guilty, and that he posed no threat to anyone.

Yet Barbour not only did his time, but spent the intervening years as a sex offender, a convicted rapist, losing his family and then his health to bone cancer.  On the flip side, a rapist remained at liberty to enjoy the life that Barbour lost.

So now the world knows that Bennett Barbour is no rapist. Maybe he’ll get some restitution for his troubles. Maybe not.  Nothing will give him back the life he would have had but for that knock on the door on Valentine’s Day, 1978, and some will take comfort in the fact that he was proven innocent in 2012, 34 years later.  Great system.

H/T Rob Robertson

2 thoughts on “Life Plus Cancer in Old Dominion

  1. Frank

    How do you give back 34 years?

    And the worst part is that even with all this new tech innocent pople still get railroaded.

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