The Marshall County District Attorney General’s Office dismissed the remaining charges against Randy Mills on Friday, exonerating him of a 1999 rape. The dismissal was in response to a November 2013 decision by the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals decision ordering a new trial for Mills based on new DNA evidence proving his innocence.
“Randy Mills spent more than a decade locked up for a crime that more thorough investigation and careful forensic work would have revealed that he shouldn’t have been charged with in the first place,” said Bryce Benjet, a staff attorney with the Innocence Project. “This day was a long time coming, and I know Mr. Mills was happy to have been with close friends when it finally came.”
Mills was convicted in January 2000 of rape of a child and aggravated sexual battery for an incident that was said to have occurred on March 15, 1999, when the accuser, CM, was 12 years old. Mills and his two teenage sons lived next door to CM in a public housing duplex. On the day of the alleged crime, CM was under the care of her then 16-year-old sister. After CM was caught having snuck out of the house, she claimed that Mills had lured her into his bedroom to smoke pot and then raped her.
Mills’s conviction was based on CM’s testimony, who gave inconsistent statements about the attack. This incredible story, however, was bolstered by a state lab analyst who performed DNA testing on sperm found on CM’s underwear. The analyst claimed that Mills “couldn’t be excluded” as the source. He was convicted of one count of child rape and three counts of aggravated sexual battery.
Mills sought post conviction relief and (with the assistance of the Marie-Anne Moyes at the Federal Public Defender’s Office) was eventually able to have another lab conduct DNA testing on the underwear. This round of testing definitively excluded Mills as the source of the sperm. The Innocence Project’s review of the data from the state’s original DNA testing also showed that the state misrepresented the results of those tests, and there was evidence before trial that definitively excluded Mills. Based on this new evidence, the circuit court judge dismissed the rape charge but allowed the three counts of aggravated sexual battery to remain. The Innocence Project then secured Mills’ release from prison through an agreement that didn’t require Mills to admit guilt or waive his appeal, but required him to register as a sex offender with the state.
The burdens of sex offender registration significantly limited Mills’ ability to work as well as his home life. Mills could not see his grandchildren and was prohibited from leaving the state to visit the grave of his son, who died during Mills’ decade-long incarceration. Mills continued to fight his conviction and, on November 19, 2013, the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals found that all of Mills’ convictions must be overturned based on the new DNA evidence.
Friday, the Marshall County prosecutor announced that he would not retry Mills for the crime. “Randy’s wrongful conviction is a stern reminder to all parties in the criminal justice system that, just as with all other evidence, you must be vigilant when there is DNA evidence in a case.” said Benjet. “It also proves the need for better defense access to experts in order to protect clients like Mr. Mills from state witnesses who provide false analysis, whether through carelessness or intentionally.”
Mills and the Innocence Project also acknowledge and thank local counsel Hershell Koger of Pulaski, Tennessee, and Bill Ramsey with the Nashville firm Neal and Harwell for their extraordinary assistance in righting this miscarriage of justice.