James Bain spent more time in prison for a crime he did not commit than any other American exonerated through DNA evidence. In 1974, at the age of 19, Bain was convicted of rape and kidnapping. He was released in 2009 at the age of 54.
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On the evening of March 4, 1974, a nine-year-old boy sleeping at his home in Lake Wales, Florida, was dragged to a baseball field and raped.
Investigation and Trial
The victim told police that his assailant appeared to have been 17 or 18 years old and had a mustache and bushy sideburns. According to the victim, the man had said his name was “Jim” or “Jimmy.” The victim’s uncle thought this description sounded a lot like Jimmy Bain. Police showed the victim five or six photographs of potential suspects and he chose the one of Bain. However, of the photographs in the lineup, only Bain and one other man had sideburns.
The police questioned Bain at his home at around midnight on March 5, 1974. Bain claimed that he had been at home watching television at the time of the attack, an alibi that was supported by Bain’s sister. Nevertheless, the police arrested him.
According to FBI analysis presented at the trial, the rapist did leave semen on the victim’s underwear. The trial occurred, however, before DNA testing was available, so Bain could not be definitively tied to the semen; he could, however, match its blood group. A FBI analyst testified that the semen on the underwear was of blood group B. Bain’s blood group was AB, but according to the analyst, Bain’s group had a weak A and thus he could not be excluded from having deposited the semen. An expert for the defense testified that Bain’s group actually had a strong A, and therefore he could be definitively excluded.
In spite of this conflicting serological evidence and Bain’s alibi, Bain was convicted of rape, kidnapping, and burglary and sentenced to life in prison. The prosecution’s case rested largely on the victim’s identification of Bain in the photo lineup.
A 2001 Florida statute made it possible for certain cases to be reopened for DNA testing. Upon hearing this, Bain presented four handwritten motions for the DNA evidence in his case to be tested. In all, the case came before the court five times and was denied all five times.
With the aid of the Innocence Project of Florida and Tenth Judicial Circuit Public Defender Bob Young, Bain was finally granted access to post-conviction DNA testing. The state sent the DNA found on the victim’s underwear to the DNA Diagnostics Center. This testing excluded Bain as the source of the DNA.
The Polk County State Attorney, Jerry Hill, then joined the defense in a motion to declare Bain innocent. On December 17, 2009, a judge signed the order releasing Bain from prison after 35 years. As soon as Bain was released, he used a cell phone for the first time to call his mother.
Life after Exoneration
Bain received $1.7 million from the state of Florida for his wrongful conviction - $50,000 for every year he spent in prison. His mother also put her house and her car in her son’s name, stating, “I want him to have something by himself. He’s suffered enough.”
Bain is a leading advocate for the innocence movement, sharing his wrongful conviction experience from middle schools to colleges across the country. During an event at Florida Southern College, a student asked him what he thought about all the technology he’s seen since his release. Bain said that cars and telephones were the most surprising to him. Even though there had been cars before he was incarcerated, he explained that there were “none that talked back to me.”
He is married, has a young son, and is now in the process of writing a book.