GIP Client Kerry Robinson Exonerated After Nearly 18 Years in Prison
Kerry Robinson Walks Out of Prison a Free Man
We are THRILLED to announce the exoneration of Georgia Innocence Project client Kerry Robinson, who was released from prison into the arms of loving family and his legal team on January 8, 2020, after being convicted almost 18 years ago for a crime he did not commit. Our Co-Counsel Rodney Zell has represented Mr. Robinson for years.
A Colquitt County judge vacated Mr. Robinson’s conviction on Wednesday and the State dismissed the case against him based on new, exculpatory DNA results. In 2002, Mr. Robinson was convicted of participating in a brutal three-person rape of a woman in Moultrie, Georgia, and was sentenced to twenty years to serve in prison. The rape survivor never even identified him.
Despite having almost a decade to investigate the rape before trial in 2002, the State presented only two pieces of evidence against Mr. Robinson:
1. Testimony of an incentivized co-defendant, who received a lesser sentence for his testimony even though he was identified by the rape survivor and his version of events directly contradicted her account. (Kerry Robinson asserted the co-defendant must have implicated Kerry out of a belief that Kerry had turned the co-defendant into the police on an unrelated charge.)
2. Expert testimony of a Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) DNA analyst indicating to the that Mr. Robinson’s DNA was likely present in the sexual assault. The trial judge determined that the GBI’s testimony corroborated that of the incentivized co-defendant.
At trial, GBI explained they had interpreted the complex mixture of DNA in the sexual assault kit and determined that there were likely four DNA contributors, which undisputedly included the victim and the incentivized co-defendant. The GBI analyst explained that two unique remaining alleles (or DNA markers) were the same as Mr. Robinson’s. Though the GBI analyst initially testified that the DNA results were inconclusive as to Mr. Robinson, he then shifted his testimony to say there was a “very, very low likelihood” that a random person could have contributed those alleles as opposed to Mr. Robinson.
New, exculpatory DNA results were obtained by forensic scientist Dr. Greg Hampikian of Boise State University utilizing Cybergenetics’ TrueAllele probabilistic genotyping system. (The Georgia Bureau of Investigations adopted the TrueAllele system in 2018.) The results demonstrate that the same evidence the GBI indicated was inclusionary at trial is actually exclusionary – suggesting that Mr. Robinson did not commit the crime. Now there was nothing at all to corroborate the false testimony of the incentivized co-defendant and additional evidence indicating that Kerry Robinson did not commit the crime.
We filed an Extraordinary Motion for New Trial based on these results. Southern Judicial Circuit District Attorney Brad Shealy reviewed the new evidence and acted quickly to join our motion and help correct the unjust conviction. “District Attorney Shealy’s actions reflect the justice that we fight for, and we hope others follow this lead. When the government takes steps to ensure that convictions have integrity, it helps improve the credibility of our legal system overall,” said GIP Staff Attorney Jennifer Whitfield, who represented Mr. Robinson with Rodney Zell.
“Fifteen minutes of flawed DNA forensic testimony took almost 18 years to correct in this case. My hope is that labs and lawyers will take notice, and re-examine these complex DNA mixture cases that can mistakenly imprison the innocent,” said Dr. Hampikian, who obtained the new DNA results.
A LONG STRUGGLE
DNA scientists recognized many years ago that the scientific evidence used to convict Kerry Robinson was very weak. In fact, over nine years ago, Dr. Hampikian demonstratee that the expert testimony in Mr. Robinson’s case was deeply flawed and likely the result of subjective bias, as opposed to math or science.
As part of a published case study called “Subjectivity and Bias in Forensic Mixture Interpretation,” Dr. Hampikian and co-author Itiel Dror sent the DNA data from Mr. Robinson’s case to 17 DNA analysts at a prominent laboratory for evaluation. Twelve analysts found that Mr. Robinson was not present in the DNA mixture; four could not draw a conclusion; and only one agreed with the GBI’s testimony.
To further illustrate Mr. Robinson’s innocence, Dr. Hampikian also completed DNA testing on four staff members at a local Georgia Fox News station, and compared their DNA to that from the sexual assault kit. All four reporters’ DNA matched the DNA mixture from the sexual assault kit with at least as many genetic markers as Mr. Robinson, or, in the case of one of the reporters — a 26-year-old white female — even more.
All of this information was presented by attorney Zell, through Dr. Hampikian, to a Georgia court at a habeas corpus hearing in 2012, but the court denied relief because it believed the new information simply resulted in a battle of the experts.
The new TrueAllele DNA analysis confirms that the GBI’s trial testimony was wrong: the DNA is actually exculpatory of Mr. Robinson rather than inculpatory. The results indicate that a random African-American’s DNA is 1,800 times more likely than Mr. Robinson’s DNA to explain the mixture of DNA in the rape kit.
“We are so grateful that this new technology is finally able to meet the incredibly high threshold for righting wrongful convictions in Georgia,” said Rodney Zell, co-counsel in Robinson’s case. “It has been a long fight.”
AN INNOCENT MAN WALKS FREE
Emotions abounded Wednesday as more than a dozen supporters anxiously gathered on the prison lawn awaiting Mr. Robinson’s release. Mr. Robinson’s close family members were present — including his doting sister and grateful son, who was only two years old when Mr. Robinson’s sentence was imposed. Also waiting was Kerry Robinson’s legal team, GIP staff, and a news crew — comprised of one of the reporters who participated in Dr. Hampikian’s DNA experiment with Fox 5 almost a decade ago.
Click here to view footage from Mr. Robinson’s release.
Anxiety turned to excitement when Mr. Robinson first approached the prison exit gate. He waved goodbye to prison guards and his friends in prison. He then turned to the anxious crowd, giving us a thumbs up as the gate opened and he slowly walked into freedom. A few seconds later, he was greeted with many hugs, hollers, and tears.
Asked what he is going to do with his newfound freedom, Mr. Robinson told supporters, with a big grin on his face, that he is going to start living his life. What would be his first meal on the outside? Fruit. He wanted nothing more than fresh fruit.
THANK YOU, SUPPORTERS
Thanks to every single person who helped correct this unjust conviction and free Kerry Robinson. From co-counsel, to scientists and reporters, to those in power who couple a belief in justice with courage to do the right thing, to friends and colleagues who offered support and guidance, to the absolutely invaluable donors and supporters who make possible everything Georgia Innocence Project does.
“We are thrilled to see this unjust conviction finally corrected,” said Georgia Innocence Project Executive Director Clare Gilbert. “The factors that led to Kerry Robinson’s conviction – flawed forensics and false testimony from an incentivized cooperator – are present in so many wrongful conviction cases. Our fight continues on behalf of the many innocent men and women who remain imprisoned in Georgia.”
To learn more about Mr. Robinson’s case, check out our website and these sources: