Hogan Lovells, Innocence Project, and Mid-Atlantic Innocent Project File with Virginia Appeals Court to Exonerate Richmond Man

WASHINGTON, D.C., 9 February 2011 – On Thursday, 3 February Hogan Lovells US LLP joined the Innocence Project and the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project in filing legal papers before the Virginia Court of Appeals to exonerate a Richmond man who has been incarcerated for over 27 years for three rapes that DNA and other evidence have now shown he did not commit. After an extensive investigation that included DNA testing, a review of the evidence, and polygraph tests, Richmond Commonwealth’s Attorney Michael Herring and Henrico Commonwealth’s Attorney Wade Kizer are both calling for Thomas Haynesworth’s return to freedom. Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli has also announced that he supports the writ seeking a declaration of innocence.


Between 3 January and 1 February 1984, five white women were the victims of rapes or attempted rapes by a young black male in the East End of Richmond, a small area overlapping both the City of Richmond and Henrico County. On 5 February 1984, Haynesworth, an 18-year-old Richmond resident with no prior record, was arrested after one of the victims identified him. The other four victims later picked his photo out of a photo array. Haynesworth was eventually convicted for crimes that occurred on 3 and 30 January and 1 February 1984, and sentenced to 36 years in prison. He was acquitted of the crime that occurred on 21 January 1984, and the charges were dropped in a 27 January incident.

Rapes in the same area continued throughout 1984 after Haynesworth was arrested, with more than 10 young white women being attacked by a young black male who began to refer to himself as the “Black Ninja.” On 19 December 1984, police arrested Leon Davis, who was charged with a dozen rapes that took place during the last nine months of 1984. By that time, however, Haynesworth had already been tried and convicted of the three incidents from early 1984. Davis was eventually convicted of at least three of those crimes and sentenced to multiple life terms.

After five men were exonerated through DNA testing of biological evidence in the case files of the Department of Forensic Science, Gov. Mark Warner ordered a review of all the cases between 1973 and 1988 where evidence had been maintained that was suitable for DNA testing. As a result of this review, it was discovered that the semen recovered from the victim of Haynesworth’s 3 January rape conviction matched Davis, not Haynesworth. Based on this new biological evidence, on 18 September 2009, the Supreme Court of Virginia issued a writ of actual innocence exonerating Haynesworth in connection with the 3 January 1984 rape.

The Innocence Project, the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project, and the Hogan Lovells team then reached out to the Richmond and Henrico Commonwealth’s Attorneys to review Haynesworth’s other convictions. While there was no physical evidence for his two remaining convictions, Haynesworth requested DNA testing of the physical evidence that remained from the case in which he was acquitted, which proved that Davis was also the perpetrator of that crime.


After additional investigation, the Richmond and Henrico Commonwealth’s Attorneys agreed that Haynesworth was also innocent of the other two crimes. 


In the papers that were filed on 3 February 2011, Haynesworth asked the court to grant him a Nonbiological Writ of Actual Innocence with respect to his two remaining convictions. Even with the support of the Attorney General and both Commonwealth’s Attorneys, Haynesworth will likely remain incarcerated while the court decides the case. There are no mandatory deadlines for the court to reach a decision.


Haynesworth would be the fourth person to be exonerated from the state’s review of 210 cases that occurred between 1973 and 1988 where there was sufficient evidence to conduct DNA testing. (There is also an exoneration pending for a Newport News man before the Virginia Supreme Court.) He would be only the second to be exonerated through a Nonbiological Writ of Actual Innocence.


The Hogan Lovells legal team includes partner Ellen Kennedy and associates Thomas Widor and Aaron George.

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