Man released on DNA evidence

Imprisoned for 17 years on rape conviction

Tuesday, August 31, 2004 Posted: 2:20 PM EDT (1820 GMT)

DECATUR, Georgia (AP) -- A man who spent 17 years in prison for the 1986 rape, kidnapping and robbery of a hospital worker was freed Tuesday after DNA evidence cleared him.

Clarence Harrison, 44, was sentenced to life in prison in 1987 on charges of sexually assaulting the woman as she waited for a bus.

A new DNA test of the rape kit used as evidence in the case showed Harrison did not commit the rape.

A motion for a new trial was filed on Harrison's behalf last week by lawyers from the Georgia Innocence Project; DeKalb County prosecutors did not object.

Judge Cynthia Becker granted the request Tuesday -- and then dismissed the charges.

"All we know for sure is the culprit is not Mr. Harrison, " said John Petrey, chief assistant district attorney.

The courtroom erupted into applause and tears after the ruling.

"I think I had given up years ago," Harrison said outside the courthouse. "I think God just carried me on through it."

Harrison wouldn't say whether he would seek compensation for the time he spent in prison, but he said he wasn't bitter. His friends said Harrison wants to focus on finding a job and getting married before considering his next legal step.

Prosecutors had worked with the Georgia Innocence Project on Harrison's case since Harrison wrote the group in February 2003.

The original case against Harrison hinged on the victim's testimony and evidence of seminal fluid. However, crime labs testing the physical evidence at the time could only narrow the field to 88 percent of all men.

Though Harrison's lawyers appealed, a private lab determined evidence was unsuitable for further DNA analysis.

According to a police report, the 25-year-old victim, who worked at Grady Memorial Hospital, was standing at a bus stop when a man walked up, struck her in the face and said, "If you scream, I'll kill you right here." He walked her to a wooded area and repeatedly raped and sodomized her, the report said.

The attacker took her money and watch and knocked out two front teeth.

The woman initially identified Harrison from a photographic lineup and later identified him at the trial.

The Georgia Innocence Project, founded two years ago, has received letters from more than 1,400 inmates seeking to have their convictions overturned. The project has six open cases and is investigating more than 250 others.