Photo: Dennis Brown (R) with David Park of the Innocence Project New Orleans (L)
Dennis Brown was convicted of a 1984 rape in Louisiana. His conviction came about after the victim picked him out of a lineup and he falsely confessed. Nineteen years later, Brown was released from prison after DNA testing showed that he could not have been the rapist.
In September 1984, a man broke into a Covington, Louisiana, home and raped a woman, who was alone in her house. He threatened her with a knife during the attack. The victim later told police that the perpetrator was an African American male with a bandana covering his entire face below the eyes.
The victim aided the police in producing a composite sketch of the attacker. The victim later picked Dennis Brown out of a lineup. At trial, the victim testified that she had seen the attacker clearly for twenty minutes and she was sure that Brown was the man.
Brown testified at trial that police had threatened him at knife point, forcing him to confess. He said he had volunteered for the lineup as a filler, not as a suspect.
The Biological Evidence
Seminal fluid was found on the victim’s sanitary napkin. Serological testing revealed that sample revealed type O blood grouping. Both Williams and the victim had Type O blood, and an analyst testified that Brown could have contributed this fluid while 60 percent of African American men were excluded as possible perpetrators. No one should have been excluded, however, because when the evidence being tested is a mixed stain of semen from the perpetrator and vaginal secretions from the victim – and testing does not detect blood group substance or enzymes foreign to the victim – no potential semen donor can be excluded because the victim’s blood group markers could be “masking” the perpetrator’s. Under such circumstances, the failure to inform the jury that 100% of the male population could be included and that none can be excluded is highly misleading.
Conviction and Appeals
The jury considered Brown’s confession, the victim’s identification, and the serological evidence before convicting him of aggravated rape, aggravated burglary, and aggravated crimes against nature. He was sentenced to life in prison.
Brown sought and gained the assistance of the Innocence Project New Orleans (IPNO). In 2003, IPNO filed a motion for postconviction DNA testing that was granted. Test results showed that Brown was not the donor of the semen collected from the evidence and, therefore, could not have been the man who committed this rape.
In 2004, after serving 19 years for a crime he never committed, Dennis Brown was released from Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola. He was 17 years old when he was convicted.