The Virginia Supreme Court on Thursday cleared an Indiana man of sexual assault convictions in Fairfax County from more than four decades ago.
The case may be the last exoneration stemming from a massive post-conviction DNA testing project in Virginia that was begun in 2005 and is about to wrap up. The effort now has cleared 13 innocent people of serious crimes.
The unanimous court issued a writ of actual innocence for Winston L. Scott, 62, vacating his convictions. He was 19 when a Reston woman was attacked on July 24, 1975. He was sentenced to 14 years on convictions of rape, sodomy and statutory burglary and served about five years before he was paroled.
“Upon reviewing the totality of the evidence, including records from the original case, the evidence presented at the original trial, the newly-discovered biological evidence, and the proffers made by the petitioner and the Commonwealth, the Court finds that Scott has proved, by clear and convincing evidence … that no rational trier of fact would have found him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt,” wrote Justice Bernard Goodwyn.
Scott was convicted largely on the strength of the victim’s identification of him in a photo spread and then again in court at his 1976 trial.
However, in 2010, DNA testing of sperm found on the victim’s jeans and from her vagina failed to identify Scott’s genetic profile or that of the victim’s only sex partner at the time. Scott was not excluded until 2017, after he was located out of state and asked if he wanted to submit a sample for testing.
“For 43 years, Winston Scott has been branded a rapist for a crime he didn’t commit,” said Frances Walters, one of Scott’s lawyers with the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project. “Today’s decision erases that burden and will allow him to live the rest of his life without that stain.” Read more.