In 1970, 22-year-old Sherman Brown was convicted and sentenced to death in Virginia for murdering a 4-year-old boy in the child’s home. But last week, the Innocence Project—in collaboration with attorney Steven Rosenfield, the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project and Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP—filed a writ of actual innocence with the Virginia Supreme Court which says that results from new DNA testing strongly points to Brown being innocent. The attorneys also argue that Brown’s conviction was based on evidence which has now been proven to be unreliable and to have no scientific validity.
As detailed in a Richmond Times Dispatch article published today, on an October afternoon in 1969, a woman and her 4-year-old son answered her door while her younger child slept. The man at the door asked for a drink of water, so she let him in. But when he asked to have sex with her and she refused, she said that he struck her unconscious. Soon after the attack, she was found on her couch no longer wearing her underwear, and her 4-year-old was discovered in his bed, stabbed to death.
The victim identified Brown, but the victim said that she could not recall what happened after she was struck unconscious—and initially misidentified Brown’s father as the perpetrator—making her identification unreliable.
At trial, the prosecution’s case relied on the testimony from an FBI analyst who said that hairs on a sweatshirt, that belonged to Brown’s brother-in-law, “matched” Brown’s hair, and that this was important because fibers on this sweatshirt were found to have “matched” fibers from the victim’s robe and vice-versa. Brown’s conviction was based in large part on this flawed forensic evidence.
Evidence strongly points to the female victim being raped. Testing of physical evidence collected in connection with the crime has also excluded Brown and is powerful evidence that he did not commit these crimes. DNA testing also shows with more than 98% certainty that the victim’s husband is excluded as well. Steps are now being taken to conclusively exclude the victim’s husband.
According to Brown’s lawyers, they also have a letter from the U.S. Department of Justice which states that an audit of conviction cases based on hair analysis by the FBI reveals that the analyst gave erroneous testimony regarding the hair evidence. A fiber expert has also determined that the testimony regarding the fiber evidence went well beyond the scientific conclusions that could have been reached based on the testing that was conducted.
In 1972, the U.S. Supreme court ruled in Furman v. Georgia that capital punishment was cruel and unusual, and he was re-sentenced to life in prison. He’s now 69.