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Kevin Martin was overcome with emotion as he left the D.C. courthouse Monday after being exonerated for a crime he didn’t commit.

Bill O’Leary • Washington Post,

FBI errors led to 26 years in prison

  • Article by: Keith L. Alexander and Spencer S. Hsu
  • Washington Post
  • July 21, 2014 - 8:41 PM

– A judge concluded Monday that DNA evidence exonerates a man who spent 26 years in prison for the 1982 rape and murder of a Washington, D.C., woman.

Kevin Martin’s case marks the fifth time in as many years that federal prosecutors in Washington acknowledged that errors by an elite FBI forensic unit have led to a wrongful conviction.

U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen joined defense calls to vacate Martin’s conviction and declare him innocent of the attack on Ursula Brown. Machen cited DNA evidence that contradicts a previous finding by forensic experts linking Martin to a hair ­collected at the crime scene.

“Thirty years ago, Kevin Martin was unjustly branded a rapist and murderer,” Machen said in a statement. “It is never too late to do ­justice.”

Martin, 50, who had long professed innocence in the killing, left the D.C. courthouse with his name cleared. He was paroled in 2009 and lives in San ­Francisco.

“I am free at last. I am humbled. I never gave up,” Martin said, hugging and high-fiving his attorneys. His younger sister, his fiancée, his 6-year-old niece and other family members gathered around. “I just want to live,” he said.

The hearing came as Machen’s office nears the end of a 2½-year review of all local convictions involving FBI hair matches that was started in 2012 after demands by the D.C. Public Defender Service. The service has worked to clear four other men convicted by such matches since 2009. And the troubling problems exposed in the FBI lab’s methods have led the FBI and Justice Department to undertake a nationwide review of more than 2,100 convictions in the 1980s and 1990s.

Martin’s is the first wrongful conviction uncovered by Washington prosecutors in the local review, and they said it is the only one they have found. PDS praised the effort to exonerate Martin, but criticized the U.S. attorney’s office review as secretive and the disclosure of results as incomplete and overdue.

The crime

Brown, 19, was abducted on Nov. 1, 1982, after her car was struck from behind on the Anacostia Freeway, during a rash of what authorities called “bump-and-rob” assaults. Her partly clothed body was later found near a trash bin in southeast Washington. She had been sexually assaulted, shot in the head and stabbed.

Martin, then a 17-year-old drug addict, pleaded guilty to a series of similar armed robberies that occurred one week later, but, from the start, maintained he knew nothing about Brown’s death.

As they built a case, prosecutors told the defense that an FBI examiner was prepared to testify that a pubic hair found on Brown’s sneaker was a match to Martin. In March 1984, Martin entered an Alford plea to manslaughter. Under such a plea, a defendant acknowledges that prosecutors have sufficient evidence for a conviction but doesn’t admit guilt.

Martin was sentenced in 1984 to 35 years to life in prison for manslaughter and robbery. He wrote letters to the judge and attorneys claiming his innocence and lawyer Bernard Grimm and the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project looked into the case. Martin was paroled in 2009 after prosecutors agreed that his sentence should be reduced.

 

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