A Louisiana man left prison Wednesday after DNA evidence proved he was not guilty of the attempted rape for which he has spent the last 17 years behind bars.
Nathan Brown was convicted of attempted rape in 1997 based on a mistaken eyewitness identification by the crime’s victim. He met his lawyer on the day his trial was scheduled to begin. He was sentenced to 25 years in prison.
After 16 years in prison, Brown and his lawyers won the right to test the dress the crime’s victim was wearing for DNA. A private forensic lab found evidence, and when it was run through a federal database, authorities matched the DNA to another man who lived in the same Metarie neighborhood where the crime was committed.
In August 1997, a woman was attacked while walking through her apartment complex courtyard. During a struggle, the victim’s attacker bit her.
The Jefferson Parrish District Attorney’s office supported Brown’s petition to go free, joining the petition filed by Brown’s lawyers to vacate his conviction.
Emily Maw, director of the Innocence Project New Orleans, which helped Brown win his release, said in a statement that Brown’s experience with his defense attorney is not unusual. “Mr. Brown’s mother paid for an attorney who it appears did almost nothing to prepare for the trial,” Maw said. “Unfortunately we have seen that happen far too many times here in Louisiana. Of the 41 people who have been exonerated in Louisiana, more than two-thirds had less than effective defense lawyers.”
Eyewitness identification is also known to be unreliable; in the 316 convictions overturned by DNA evidence, eyewitness mis-identification played a part in 75% of them.