Johnny Briscoe was released from a Missouri prison on July 19, 2006 after DNA testing on cigarette butts from the crime scene proved that he did not commit the rape for which he had been incarcerated for 23 years.
Briscoe and his lawyers had been told since 2000 that evidence in his case had been lost or destroyed. In 2006, it was located and tested, proving his innocence.
In the early morning hours of October 21, 1982, a man broke into a woman’s apartment in a suburb of St. Louis, Mo. The victim said that the man threatened her with a knife, stole her jewelry and then brutally raped her. After the rape, the man stayed with the victim for an hour, smoking a cigarette while the victim smoked two cigarettes. The two were together in a brightly lit room and the man told the victim that his name was John Briscoe.
Eventually, the man left the apartment and the victim called police. While police were still in the apartment, a man called the victim several times and identified himself as John Briscoe. The call was traced by police to a payphone near Briscoe’s apartment.
On the morning of the incident, the victim was taken to the hospital for a rape examination. A rape kit including biological samples was collected from her.
The victim would later identify Briscoe in a photo lineup as well as a live lineup. Briscoe was the only man in the live lineup wearing an orange jumpsuit.
At Briscoe’s 1983 trial for forcible rape, sodomy, burglary, robbery, stealing and armed criminal action, the victim identified Briscoe as the man who had attacked her. Briscoe’s lawyer presented an alibi defense on his behalf.
A forensic chemist from the St. Louis County Crime Laboratory testified that semen was present on swabs from the victim’s rape kit as well as on pantyhose, a towel and the victim’s bed sheets. A forensic hair expert testified that a head hair found on the victim’s bed sheet showed characteristics similar to Briscoe’s head hair. Because there is not adequate empirical data on the frequency of various class characteristics in human hair, an analyst’s assertion that hairs are consistent or similar is inherently prejudicial and lacks probative value.
A jury took less than two hours to convict Briscoe and he was sentenced to 45 years in state prison. Briscoe was 29 years old.
After his conviction, Briscoe maintained his innocence and sought DNA testing on the biological evidence collected at the crime scene. In 1997, Briscoe’s motion to compel the St. Louis District Attorney’s Office to search for evidence was denied.
In 2000, Centurion Ministries, a Princeton, N.J.-based non-profit organization that seeks to overturn wrongful convictions, began working on Briscoe’s case. In 2000 and again in 2001, Briscoe’s attorneys requested that the St. Louis Crime Laboratory search for evidence in his case. Laboratory officials said that evidence could not be found and was presumed destroyed.
In 2004, a laboratory inventory turned up the cigarette butts from Briscoe’s case in a freezer, but the district attorney said his office was not informed of the existence of the cigarettes until July 6, 2006. DNA testing on one of the cigarette butts showed the profile of a man other than Briscoe. This foreign profile matched a man currently serving time in the Missouri prison system. This man was known to Briscoe and may have used Briscoe’s name in the crime.
Briscoe, 52, walked out of a Charleston, Mo. prison on July 19, 2006, just days after being told that the evidence had been found and tested.