Photo from Forensic Files
Richard Alexander was arrested in connection with four sexual assaults that took place during the summer of 1996, in South Bend, Indiana. He was eventually tried for three of the assaults and convicted of two of them. After mitochondrial DNA testing performed in 2001 excluded him as the assailant in one of the incidents, he was exonerated of both crimes and released from prison.
After Alexander's arrest in 1996, the assaults in the South Bend area continued, despite the fact that he was in prison. In one case that occurred after Alexander's imprisonment, his photograph was accidentally placed in the photo lineup showed to the victim, and she identified him as the perpetrator - although he obviously could not have committed the crime.
Although charged in four separate incidents, Alexander only went to trial for three of them. Biological evidence recovered in the fourth case was subjected to DNA testing that cleared him of any culpability - despite the fact that both the victim in the case and her fiance had identified Alexander as the perpetrator and were certain in their identifications. The DNA profile instead matched another man, who was later convicted of the crime based on this evidence.
Alexander was charged with two counts of robbery, two counts of criminal deviate conduct, two counts of attempted rape, two counts of confinement, attempted robbery, rape, burglary and auto theft. At trial, one of the victims positively identified him as her assailant, but described the perpetrator's chest as free of tattoos and not hairy. Alexander's chest had tattoos and was hairy, and the jury acquitted him in that case. He was convicted of the remaining two crimes and sentenced to seventy years in prison.
In 2001, a man named Michael Murphy confessed to committing one of the crimes for which Alexander was convicted, providing details that could only be known by the true perpetrator. Following the confession, hairs found at the scene of the crime were submitted to a lab for mitochondrial DNA testing. Such testing was not available in Indiana at the time of Alexander's conviction, and at trial an expert testified that microscopic analysis of the hairs could not exclude Alexander as the assailant. The mitochondrial DNA testing, however, proved the hairs could not belong to Alexander and moreover matched Murphy's DNA profile.
In light of this exonerating evidence, prosecutors came to believe that Alexander did not commit the second of the two incidents for which he was convicted. In that case, the evidence at trial consisted of the victim's uncertain voice identification of Alexander and another eyewitness' visual identification of him as the perpetrator. However, the modus operandi in this crime was so similar to the assault for which Mark Williams was convicted that authorities originally thought the two must have been committed by the same person. Although no biological evidence existed in this case, a multitude of factors lead the district attorney's office to conclude in 2001, that Williams had committed both crimes, and that Alexander was thus innocent of all charges that had been brought against him.
Alexander's appellate attorney and the prosecuting attorney filed a joint motion to have his convictions vacated, and the court granted that motion on December 12, 2001. Richard Alexander was officially cleared of all charges and released, after serving more than five years in prison. The district attorney said he would not re-prosecute Alexander for the crimes.