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David Brian Sutherlin

17 Years in Prison: Innocent

Cause: Eyewitness Misidentification
Real Perpetrator Found: Yes
State: Minnesota
David Brian Sutherlin
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In June 1985, David Brian Sutherlin was found guilty of rape by a jury in St. Paul (Ramsey County), Minnesota. In July 1985, he was found guilty of two unrelated murders and sentenced to life in prison. Two months later, he was sentenced to 43 months on the rape, consecutive to his murder sentences. In 2002, he was exonerated of the rape after a prosecution-initiated review led to DNA testing of the evidence in his case. Sutherlin is still serving his murder sentences.

The victim of the rape was attacked while on an early-morning walk by a man she described as black, about 5' 8", with wide eyes, a two-inch afro, and very large above and around the waist. The man hit her several times in the head with a metal object, hauled her to a wooded area, and raped her. Sutherlin was identified as the attacker when the victim chose his photo out of a photo lineup. She was visibly shaken when she saw the photo and said it looked exactly like the attacker. At trial, however, she could only say that Sutherlin resembled the attacker. His hair was shorter than the attacker's and his complexion was much lighter. Two witnesses testified that he had lost weight. Sutherlin lived near the crime scene and owned a car similar to one seen in the area that night.

Serological testing conducted at the time was inconclusive, although enzymes found on the victim's clothing were consistent with Sutherlin and 22% of the population.

In 2001, the Ramsey County's Attorney's Office launched a systematic review of pre-1995 convictions in that county to determine if DNA testing would have affected the outcome of those cases. Sutherlin's rape case was the only one that resulted in exoneration. It is believed to be the first in the nation to result from prosecution-initiated post-conviction DNA testing. The testing also identified the actual rapist from the state DNA database, a man who had been convicted of aggravated robbery. He matched the victim's description and lived near the crime scene in 1985. He could not be prosecuted because the statute of limitations had expired.

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The Causes

  • Eyewitness Misidentification
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The Facts

Incident Date: 3/2/85
Jurisdiction: MN
Charge: Rape
Conviction: Rape
Conviction Date: 6/7/85
Exoneration Date: 11/13/02
Sentence: 43 months
Served: 17 years
Real Perpetrator Found: Yes
Compensation: Not Yet
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