Clarence Harrison, Georgia Innocence Project’s first exoneree, served nearly 18 years in prison for a rape he never committed.
It started in 1986 in Decatur, Georgia. A woman waiting for a bus was attacked, dragged away from the bus stop and raped repeatedly. The assailant stole her watch.
Police began to suspect Clarence when they heard a rumor that someone at Clarence’s home was attempting to sell a watch. The police searched Clarence’s home, but never recovered the watch. Regardless, the police presented Clarence’s photo to the victim in a photographic lineup, where she identified Clarence as her attacker.
Clarence Harrison was subsequently arrested and charged with rape, robbery and kidnapping. The case was based on the victim’s identification of Clarence and flawed expert testimony regarding DNA analysis. The state’s expert testified that the DNA was consistent with Clarence, and that the blood markers could exclude 22% of the population.
In fact, the victim’s particular blood group markers had the potential to “mask” the perpetrator’s, meaning that 100% of the male population could be included as possible sources—effectively rendering the sample useless as evidence. Despite this, Clarence Harrison was convicted of all counts and sentenced to life in prison, plus 20 years.
In the early 1990s, Clarence Harrison was told all the evidence in his case had been destroyed. Nevertheless, Clarence did not give up and was accepted as a client by the Georgia Innocence Project in 2003. The GIP did not give up on Clarence’s case either. After a renewed search GIP located two slides from the victim’s rape kit. New testing proved conclusively that the DNA found in the rape kit could not possibly have come from Clarence Harrison.
Clarence was released from prison on August 31, 2004 after serving almost 18 years in prison for someone else’s crime. 18 days after his release, he married his longtime girlfriend, and now gives talks about his exoneration, his wrongful conviction, and its long-term effects on his life.
“I used to wait for the mail to get a letter from GIP,” Clarence Harrison has said, “because I was writing them letters every month to hear their response, and the hope which the interns provided me. The interns never left me. Aimee Maxwell and every single one of the interns that worked on my case came to my wedding. Still, as of today, [they] have not forgotten, nor have I forgotten them. And GIP will always be a part of my life, because I am completely a part of GIP.”
Convicted in DeKalb County, GA
Convicted of: Rape, Robbery, Kidnapping
Sentence: Life plus 20 years plus 20 years
Incarcerated: June 26, 1987
Released: August 31, 2004
Years Served: 17 years
In August 1979, a 74-year-old woman awoke at 4 a.m. in her Manchester, Georgia home to find a man standing over her. He raped and beat her, then handed her a pillow to cover her face. The room was dark, the victim wasn’t wearing her glasses, and the beating was so severe that her face was partially paralyzed.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation drew a composite sketch of the suspect from a description given by the elderly victim, but was unable to collect a rape kit due to the extent of her injuries. They were, however, able to recover pubic hairs from the scene of the crime.
Based on the composite sketch alone, GBI investigators identified nineteen-year-old John White as a suspect. Five weeks after the crime, the victim picked John out of a photo array, saying she was “almost positive” that John was the rapist. The victim also picked John out of a subsequent line-up. John was arrested in September 1979, and charged with rape and burglary.
At trial, he prosecution’s lab analysist testified that the pubic hairs found at the crime scene were “similar enough” to match John. Based on this evidence and the eyewitness identification, John White was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.
In 1990, John was released on parole. As he walked out of prison for the first time in over a decade, he was confronted with the reality of living life as a convicted sex offender. After his release, John’s life began a downward spiral that culminated in convictions for drug possession and robbery, crimes for which he accepts full responsibility. ≈
“I was raised on the chain gang,” John later said, “and I didn’t know how to make my way once I got out.”
These subsequent convictions caused John’s parole to be revoked, and in 1997 he was returned to prison to serve out the entirety of his life sentence—a sentence he had received for a crime he did not commit.
From behind bars, John reached out to the Georgia Innocence Project for help. Through the efforts of GIP, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation performed DNA testing that proved John was innocent of the crimes he had been convicted of in 1980. Microscopic analysis, the best technology available at the time, had indicated that hairs from the crime scene were “similar enough” to provide a match. However, modern DNA testing of those hairs has now proven conclusively that they do not belong to John. Further, the results of this DNA testing revealed that the actual source of the hairs, and led prosecutors to the actual perpetrator—a man who had been present at the same line-up where John’s alleged victim identified him as her attacker.
With the help of the Georgia Innocence Project, John was released from Macon State Prison and exonerated on December 10, 2007.
Convicted in Meriwether County, GA
Convicted of: Rape, Burglary, Robbery, Aggravated Assault
Released: December 10, 2007
Years Served: 27 years
On September 19, 1985, Willie “Pete” Williams, a 23-year-old part-time painter, was sentenced to 45 years for a rape he did not commit. The DNA evidence that exonerated Pete later implicated a serial rapist.
Pete was a passenger in a car pulled over for a traffic violation when police noted that he resembled the composite sketch of a serial rapist in a nearby neighborhood. The officers included Pete in a line-up, and two victims and a witness identified Pete as the perpetrator. The actual rapist was not included in the line-up. After identifying Williams in a lineup, a victim was asked by a detective, “From zero to 100 percent, how sure are you?” She answered “120 percent sure.” Based solely on faulty eyewitness identification, and despite arguments Pete’s attorney made about an alternate suspect, a jury convicted Pete of rape, aggravated sodomy, and kidnapping. The judge sentenced him to 45 years in prison.
Pete’s conviction and imprisonment did not stop the rapes. Three more sex assaults soon followed, matching the same pattern as before.
During the 22 long years of his incarceration, Pete steadfastly proclaimed his innocence to anyone who would listen. Pete wrote to GIP upon learning of our existence, and GIP soon accepted his case and located the first victim’s rape kit at the Georgia Bureau of Investigation in June 2006. A judge granted Pete’s motion for DNA testing in November 2006 and the DNA results conclusively proved that Pete Williams was innocent. That same DNA implicated Kenneth Wicker as the rapist, the same man that Williams’ attorney had correctly identified as the perpetrator over two decades earlier!
On January 23, 2007, after serving over 22 years of a 45-year sentence, Pete Williams was released from prison at the age of 45. When asked how it felt to be released after all the years he spent in prison, Pete said, “Being free—nothing can replace that. Freedom, it means everything.”
Convicted in Fulton County, GA
Convicted of: Rape, Kidnapping
Sentence: 45 Years
Incarcerated: September 19, 1985
Released: January 23, 2007
Years Served: 21 years
CALVIN C. JOHNSON JR.
On November 7, 1983, twenty-five-year-old Calvin Johnson was wrongfully convicted of a brutal crime he did not commit. Eight months earlier, on March 9, 1983, a woman had been raped and sodomized in her apartment, and described her attacker to the police as African-American, but could offer little more information. A similar rape was perpetrated two days earlier. One of the victims identified Calvin in the in-person line-up but not the photo array, while the other victim identified him in the photo array, but not the in person line-up.
Alongside these partial eyewitness identifications, the primary evidence presented at trial was a serology sample collected from one of the victims. The serology sample contained a mix of the victim and the perpetrator’s DNA. At Calvin Johnson’s trial, a lab analyst testified that 36% of the male population could be excluded as the source of the semen in the serology sample.
In fact, the victim’s blood group markers had the potential to “mask” the perpetrator’s, meaning that 100% of the male population could be included as possible sources, and effectively rendering the sample useless as evidence. The jury, however, was not informed of this fact, and Calvin Johnson was convicted of rape, sodomy, and burglary.
“With God as my witness,” Calvin said at his sentencing hearing, “I have been falsely accused of these crimes. I did not commit them. I’m an innocent man, and I just pray in the name of Jesus Christ that all this truth will be brought out. The truth will eventually be brought out.”
Calvin Johnson was sentenced to life in prison. Over a decade later, on April 26, 1994, the Innocence Project took on Calvin’s case, and filed an extraordinary motion for a new trial so the rape kit could be obtained and tested for DNA. On November 11, 1997, DNA testing unavailable at the time of Calvin Johnson’s trial revealed that Calvin was not the source of the sperm. On June 15, 1999, nearly sixteen years after he was incarcerated for a crime he did not commit, Calvin Johnson finally walked out of prison, becoming the first man in Georgia to be freed by DNA testing.
After being released, Johnson said,
“I mean, you come out, and it’s a big world. Sometimes, you just want to look. You catch yourself just looking at everything, just watching people, actions, how to dress — just to see what’s going on around you.”
Since his exoneration, Calvin Johnson has served on the board of directors for the Georgia Innocence Project, and is on the inaugural board of directors for the Innocence Project. In 2003, he published his memoir Exit to Freedom. In it, Calvin describes his conviction, the difficulty of maintaining his innocence in prison, and the long struggle that led to his exoneration in 1999.
"I have a steady job,” he said in an interview following his release. “I'm a homeowner. I have a lovely wife. I have a daughter. I have a little dog that wags his tail. Basically, you could say I'm living the American dream."
Convicted in Clayton County, GA
Convicted of: Rape, Aggravated Sodomy
Sentence: Life plus two 15-year concurrent imprisonment terms
Incarcerated: March 14, 1983
Released: June 15, 1999
Years Served: 16 years
Georgia’s 1st Exoneree
Exonerated by the Innocence Project in NY Former Georgia Innocence Project Board Member
On November 13, 2007, Michael Marshall, a forty-one-year-old homeless man, was getting a few hours of sleep in the hallway of an Atlanta-area apartment complex. Michael had lost his last steady job several years before, and since then had worked odd jobs, doing his best to survive on the streets.
That morning, however, Michael Marshall’s rest was interrupted when the property manager noticed him sleeping in the complex, and called the police. The officers who answered the call thought that Michael looked strikingly familiar, and immediately linked him to a robbery case that had happened in the same neighborhood ten days earlier.
In that robbery, a woman had looked out her window to see a man sitting in her truck. When she went outside to confront him, he pointed a gun at her and drove away. The woman’s son gave chase, but only saw the thief from behind. Despite that the thief soon abandoned the truck and fled on foot, the police were unable to apprehend him. However, they did find the thief’s cell phone, cell phone case and t-shirt in the truck.
The police officers who pursued the perpetrator and the truck owner’s son helped create a composite sketch of the thief, though the police had only seen him from a distance and the son had only seen him from behind.
Regardless of whether the composite sketch bore significant resemblance to the robbery’s perpetrator, it did bear a resemblance to Michael Marshall. When police questioned Michael ten days after the robbery, their investigation had gone cold, and he was the most promising lead they had turned up. At a one-person show-up identification conducted that day, the truck owner’s son positively identified Michael Marshall as the perpetrator. Yet the truck owner herself, who had been the only person to closely observe the robber’s face, did not identify Michael Marshall as the perpetrator.
The defense moved to exclude the son’s show-up identification. The Judge agreed: “I don’t understand why thy would do a show-up ten days later,” he said. “That’s wrong, and it shouldn’t be done.” However, the evidence the show-up identification yielded was still introduced at trial.
Soon, Michael Marshall found himself facing a possible sentence of 45 years in prison, in part because of a previous burglary conviction he had incurred while homeless. Rather than risking a sentence that likely would put him in prison for the rest of his life, Michael pled guilty and received four years. In the eyes of the law, he was a guilty man. But Michael Marshall knew he was innocent, and, after he contacted us with a request for help, so did the Georgia Innocence Project.
The Hapeville Police Department, Michael told us in one of his letters, still had in their possession the t-shirt, cell phone, and cell phone case the perpetrator left in the truck. “DNA samples are used in these times to prove a person’s innocence,” Michael wrote. Yet the state, he told us, had “never checked” this evidence to see whether it might point to another suspect, and in process exonerate him.
Based on Michael Marshall’s request for help, the Georgia Innocence Project did just that. The DNA found on the evidence left at the scene proved that Michael was innocent, and identified the actual perpetrator. On December 14, 2009, more than two years after his nightmare began, Michael Marshall was set free.
Convicted in Fulton County, GA
Convicted of: Theft by Taking
Sentence: 10 years to serve 4
Incarcerated: March 12, 2008
Released: December 14, 2009
Years Served: 2 years
ROBERT CLARKRobert’s story begins in July of 1981. He was 21 years old.
A woman in East Atlanta was kidnapped and brutally raped multiple times by an armed man who then stole her car. The 5'6" victim reported to the police that the attacker was about an inch taller than she. Two times over the next week, the victim saw a black male in her car.
Police canvassed the neighborhood and learned that 6'2" tall Robert Clark had driven the victim’s car. Police arrested Robert for car theft rather than rape, since he did not match the victim’s description. Robert initially lied to police about where he got the stolen car to cover for his friend Tony Arnold, who had loaned Robert the car. When Robert told the police the truth about Arnold, the police did not believe Robert.
Robert Clark quickly became the prime suspect, despite the discrepancies between his appearance and the victim’s description of her assailant. Police failed to investigate alternate suspects and instead placed photographs of Robert in a book of suspects and then a photo array, which they sequentially presented to the victim. On both occasions, the victim selected someone other than Robert Clark. Undeterred by the victim’s repeated failure to identify Robert, police chose Robert as the only suspect from the photo array to then present to the victim in a live line-up. The victim, upon this third time viewing Robert Clark in police presence, finally identified him as her attacker.
A defense witness in Robert’s trial testified that she saw Tony Arnold driving a car matching the victim’s car shortly after the attack. The witness also made an in-court identification of Tony Arnold. Despite this testimony, the fact that Robert was almost seven inches taller than the victim’s initial description and the lack of physical evidence tying Robert Clark to the crime, a jury convicted Robert of rape, kidnapping and armed robbery.
At sentencing Robert again tried to explain that he was innocent—that he simply had borrowed the car from Tony Arnold. The trial judge told Robert, “Mr. Clark, you have had your trial. Just remain silent.” The judge then sentenced Robert to life in prison plus 20 years.
For the next 24 years, Robert Clark steadfastly maintained his innocence. In 2003, the Innocence Project, with the Georgia Innocence Project acting as local counsel, filed a motion to test the DNA in Robert’s case. The DNA results excluded Robert and, when entered in CODIS, implicated Tony Arnold, who, by then, was serving time in prison for sodomy and cruelty to children.
In 2007, Tony Arnold was convicted of the rape for which Robert Clark had been wrongfully imprisoned for 24 years.
Robert was exonerated in December 2005, and walked out of prison an innocent man. At the time of his arrest, he was 21 years old, the father of a 5-year-old son, and lived with his mother, who never lost faith in him throughout his trial and incarceration. Robert’s mother sadly passed away just one year before his exoneration. Upon his release, Robert was a 45-year-old grandfather. When asked his feelings upon walking out of prison, Robert said, “Joyful. Grateful. No anger. No hatred, animosity, or revenge.”
Convicted in Cobb County, GA
Convicted of: Rape, Kidnapping, Armed Robbery
Sentence: Life plus 20 years
Incarcerated: June 6, 1983
Released: December 20, 2005
Years Served: 23 years
Through a firstinthenation initiative by the Georgia Innocence Project, Michael Googe of Brunswick, GA was exonerated of the 2007 burglary of a convenience store. Not only that, but the initiative also revealed the true perpetrator of the crime. Here’s how it happened. CODIS is the acronym for the “Combined DNA Index System.”
Implemented in 1998, CODIS contains DNA profiles from crime scenes (forensic profiles) and DNA profiles from people convicted of crimes (offender profiles). The Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) database contains more than 265,000 offender profiles and nearly 14,500 forensic profiles. When new forensic profiles are collected at new crime scenes, they are routinely compared to the offender profiles already in the database to try to identify the perpetrator. When there is a match, it is referred to as a “CODIS hit.” But what happens when a CODIS hit points to a different perpetrator in a crime where the wrong person has already been incarcerated? GIP wanted to find out. So GIP, in cooperation with the GBI and the Prosecuting Attorneys Council of Georgia (PAC), secured a twoyear grant from the U.S. Department of Justice to launch the project that lead to Michael’s exoneration.
In 2007, based upon the statement of his acquaintance Paul Wright, Michael Googe was arrested in Brunswick, GA for burglary of a Jazz Mart store. Police collected DNA evidence from the scene: a drop of blood on a money order receipt in the cash register. They sent the DNA to the GBI for testing.
In 2008, before testing was complete, Michael pled guilty to three burglaries, including the one at the Jazz Mart, because he was offered a reduced sentence in exchange for an agreement not to go to trial. Less than a month later, the GBI results proved the blood at the crime scene did not belong to Michael. However, this proof of innocence was never shared with Michael’s defense attorney.
In 2009, prosecutors in the case received information that there had been a CODIS hit on the blood evidence collected at the Jazz Mart. The blood matched Paul Wright, the person who told police that Michael Googe had committed the crime. Again, Michael’s defense attorney was never told. The truth was only brought to light because of the project that the Georgia Innocence Project initiated with the GBI and PAC, which revealed the sixyearold CODIS hit that proved Michael’s innocence and further revealed systemic failings that enabled DNAbased proof of innocence to remain hidden from the imprisoned innocent person for years and years. According to Michael’s criminal defense attorney Wrix McIlvaine,
“Without the work of the Georgia Innocence Project on this matter, Googe had no ability to access the information that showed his accuser, Paul Wright, was the actual perpetrator that left blood at the crime scene..."
Were it not for the investigation into CODIS and the resulting case file discrepancies, it appears that the information would have never been discovered by Googe. He would remain ignorant of exculpatory evidence.” Michael Googe was exonerated in August 2015.
Convicted in GA
Convicted of: Burglary, Unlawful Entry
Sentence: 7 years
Released: August 6, 2015
Years Served: 7 years