Ray White – Freedom at Last!

Ray White and his Legal Team

Ray White (third from left) standing outside the Columbia County Courthouse on May 22, 2024 with his legal team from GIP, Jones Day, and Mercer Habeas Project.

The Crime

On July 5, 1994, a young woman was attacked as she was taking out her trash.

For weeks, she received harassing phone calls from an unknown male, both at her home and at her job. The caller was familiar with her activities, including her visits to a local gym and her workout clothes. The caller also asked about the woman’s boyfriend, who also attended the gym, wanting to know about the nature of their relationship.

On the morning of July 5th, the man called again. The young woman, who was home alone, told him his calls were being traced. He responded with a threat: “I guess I’ll be seeing you sooner than I expected.” Then, around noon, she heard a loud bang and discovered that a brick had been thrown against her back door. She called the police, who responded, took a report, and left.

Around 2:45 p.m., she took the trash outside. As she walked back into the house, she was shoved from behind and pushed to the ground. The attacker landed on top of her, and tried to pull her pants down so forcefully he ripped her pants at the waistband in the process.

The woman fought back. In recounting the assault, she told police that she was face down, “kicking and scratching and trying not to look at him.” After a few moments, the woman managed to struggle free of the attacker. She ran to the kitchen, grabbed a gun, and fired at the man. The shot missed, and the attacker fled.

The Legacy of a Shoddy Investigation

Instead of conducting a thorough, professional investigation, the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office investigators defaulted to confirmation bias and tunnel vision, which led to the erroneous identification of Ray by the victim and the erroneous verdict of guilt by the jury.

“The ultimate result was an innocent man wrongfully convicted and incarcerated for decades. The system, and those that work within it, must do better,” said Georgia Innocence Project’s co-counsel Meagan Hurley of the Mercer Habeas Project.

What A Thorough Police Investigation Would Reveal Today

Here is the information we know today that would convince any reasonable person of Ray White’s innocence.

Ray White did not make the phone calls.

This crime occurred before the days of cell phones. Despite their best efforts to check the phone records of every phone Ray possibly could have called from, investigators never found any evidence to indicate that Ray made any harassing calls. Undeterred, investigators continued to focus on Ray.

Ray White was at work.

Ray could not have been two places at the same time. And he had an alibi. He was at work at a warehouse using a scanner assigned to him at noon when the brick was thrown at the victim’s door. He was also at work, seen by co-workers and using his scanner, at 2:45 pm when the victim was attacked.

Additionally, Ray was extremely cooperative throughout the investigation, offering biological samples and even a polygraph to prove his innocence. Law enforcement declined to pursue these investigative avenues.

Ray White was miles away.

Even if Ray had traveled to and from work to commit the crime, there is no explanation of how. Ray did not have a car. He did not have a driver’s license. He was driven to work in the morning by his co-worker, and driven home at the end of the day by his co-worker. Even his mom picked him up for lunch at 1:15 pm, dropping him back off at work an hour later.

The identification of Ray White is extraordinarily unreliable, part 1.
The identification of Ray White is extraordinarily unreliable, part 2.

Additionally, the victim initially described the assailant as 5’7 or 5’8 with blondish-brown hair. Ray was 6’ tall, and had dark brown hair.  The victim said the perpetrator smelled of alcohol and cigarettes. Ray was not a smoker and, as a recovering alcoholic, had been alcohol-free for months. The victim said the perpetrator was wearing blue jeans and a red collared shirt. Ray and several witnesses testified Ray was wearing a purple t-shirt and purple shorts all day.

DNA testing excludes Ray White.

Georgia Innocence Project fought for years on behalf of Ray, first to find physical evidence and then to overcome the State’s opposition to DNA testing. GIP was finally able to secure DNA testing on the pants where they were forcefully handled and ripped by the perpetrator. DNA analysis showed that Ray was excluded from the male DNA found on the victim’s pants.

Ray’s Successful Fight for Freedom

Georgia Innocence Project filed an Extraordinary Motion for New Trial (EMNT) for Ray based on the exclusionary DNA results. The EMNT argued that a reasonable jury likely would not have convicted Ray had the jury known, in addition to the many other indicators of Ray’s innocence, that his DNA was not present on the workout pants.

The Columbia County District Attorney’s Office was not willing to acknowledge Ray’s innocence, but they did offer to consent to vacating Ray’s conviction and for Ray to enter an Alford agreement to lesser charges. Per the agreement, Ray could maintain his innocence in court, receive a sentence of credit for time-served, and all parole conditions would be immediately terminated.

After 25 years of wrongful imprisonment and three years living under very restrictive parole conditions, Ray decided to prioritize his family and put his wrongful conviction behind him once and for all. He accepted the State’s offer for freedom rather than risking years of continued litigation.

With dignity and grace, on May 22, 2024, Ray explained: 

Georgia Innocence Project represented Ray along with co-counsel Meagan Hurley of the Mercer Law School Habeas Project and Jones Day attorneys Meghan Breen, Kendall Runyan and David E. Nahmias, who served as Chief Justice of the Georgia Supreme Court and U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia.

In addition to co-counsel, GIP is also grateful to the several interns who worked tirelessly on Ray’s case over the years. We look forward to welcoming Ray into the community of innocent freed and exonerated people and into the GIP family.

To learn more about Ray White’s case, visit Ray’s Freedom page.

To support Ray’s private GoFundMe, click here.

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