The Supreme Court of Virginia has issued its first writ of actual innocence and cleared Thomas Edward Haynesworth of a 25-year-old rape.
Haynesworth was convicted of two rapes, one in Richmond and one in Henrico County, at the same general time that a notorious serial rapist known as the Black Ninja was assaulting about a dozen women.
Sophisticated DNA tests not available at the time have connected Leon W. Davis, the Black Ninja, to the Richmond assault and exonerated Haynesworth. The Supreme Court granted the writ of actual innocence at the request of Richmond Commonwealth’s Attorney Michael N. Herring and Virginia Attorney General Bill Mims, who said, “When there is compelling evidence of actual innocence, our office works quickly and diligently to ensure that justice is done.”
There’s no DNA in the Henrico case, however, and Haynesworth’s release date before the exoneration on the Richmond charge is 2024. He also is serving time for other offenses in Richmond.
He contends that Davis, who is his age, shares his blood type and resembles him, was the culprit in the Henrico attack as well. His conviction in that case was based on the victim’s identification of him from a spread of photographs.
Henrico Commonwealth’s Attorney Wade A. Kizer said his office has sent “everything we’ve got” to the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project so that it can review that case. He said he also expects to sit down and compare the circumstances of the Henrico and Richmond cases with Herring, who said, “I’m definitely open to investigating” the other Richmond cases.
By Alan Cooper