On his 46th birthday, Virginia inmate Thomas Haynesworth was finally released from prison after serving 27 years for three rapes that DNA and other evidence now show were committed by the a serial rapist.
Haynesworth had been eligible and denied for parole as recently as June of last year. Late last week, however, Governor Bob McDonnell asked the state parole board to reconsider Haynesworth’s request. The board soon granted him parole, allowing him to conditionally rejoin his family earlier today. The Richmond Times-Dispatch reported
"This is my best birthday. Nothing can compare to this," Haynesworth said in an impromptu roadside news conference attended by reporters and photographers who followed him from the prison grounds.
"It’s been a long journey," Haynesworth said. "We're just taking it one day at a time."
While DNA and other evidence proves that Haynesworth is innocent, his conviction can only be overturned by either the Virginia Court of Appeals or by a pardon. Earlier this year, the Innocence Project, the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project and Hogan Lovells US LLP filed paperwork to the Court of Appeals requesting that Haynesworth be exonerated. The court will hear oral arguments in the case on March 30th.
In his statement lauding Haynesworth’s parole, McDonnell emphasized the uniqueness of the case and wrote that he is still considering granting a pardon
"The Parole Board thoroughly reviewed this case according to their standard procedures and policies. Mr. Haynesworth is being conditionally released according to terms set by the Parole Board and will remain under the supervision of the Department of Corrections. I will follow the Writ of Actual Innocence process as it moves forward and will consider a petition for pardon, should one be filed."
Post-conviction DNA has already exonerated 12 men in Virginia; find out how many men and women have been exonerated in your state here