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Indiana Man Exonerated After Serving More Than 25 Years for a Rape DNA Testing Proves He Didn’t Commit

By Innocence Staff

William Barnhouse on the day he was released, March 8, 2017, with his attorney Seema Saifee.

William Barnhouse Becomes 350th Person Exonerated Through DNA Evidence

(Indianapolis, IN – May 10, 2017)  A judge today granted a motion by the Delaware County Prosecutor’s Office to dismiss the 1992 rape charges against William Barnhouse based on new DNA evidence proving Barnhouse’s innocence of the crime. With Delaware County Prosecuting Attorney Jeffrey Arnold’s consent, the Innocence Project and the Wrongful Conviction Clinic at Indiana University McKinney persuaded a Delaware County court to reverse Barnhouse’s conviction on March 8, 2017 based on this new evidence. Further proceedings in the case were scheduled for May.  Arnold’s decision to dismiss the indictment against Barnhouse, who has dealt his entire life with serious mental health conditions, ends his 25 year struggle for justice.

“We’re thankful to the Delaware County Prosecutor’s Office for moving quickly to dismiss the charges against Mr. Barnhouse,” said Seema Saifee, a staff attorney with the Innocence Project, which is affiliated with Cardozo School of Law.  “Mr. Barnhouse has waited a long time for this day. While no innocent person should have to endure a wrongful incarceration, prison can be especially devastating for someone like Mr. Barnhouse who is dealing with lifelong mental health conditions.”

Barnhouse said, “It was rough. I was always innocent. I’m glad it’s finally over. I feel so happy.”

In December 1992, Barnhouse was convicted of an April 21, 1992 rape that occurred behind a vacant building in Muncie, Indiana. Shortly after the incident, police picked up Barnhouse and made him stand next to three squad cars and several police officers in an identification procedure. With police shining flashlights in Barnhouse’s face, the victim identified him. On the basis of this identification, Barnhouse was arrested. Known as a one-on-one show-up, this has been described as the most suggestive identification procedure ever used by police.

At trial, the prosecution relied on the show-up identification as well as the testimony of a forensic serologist from the Indiana State Police crime lab who provided testimony disproven by recent DNA testing that Barnhouse could not be excluded as a possible source of semen recovered from the victim’s vaginal/cervical swabs and semen in the inside crotch area of her jeans, which she put back on immediately after the assault. In addition, a microscopic hair analyst from the Indiana State Police crime lab testified that a hair recovered from the victim’s body “matched” Barnhouse’s hair standard. He testified that if he placed that one hair from the victim’s body in a pile of Barnhouse’s pubic hair standards he could not pick it out.  Significantly, in closing the prosecution argued that this hair was a “silent witness” that proved Barnhouse committed the crime. The prosecution also argued that the semen recovered from the victim’s body and jeans came from Barnhouse. Although Barnhouse maintained that he was mistakenly identified, he was convicted and sentenced to 80 years in prison.

“It was rough. I was always innocent. I’m glad it’s finally over. I feel so happy.” William Barnhouse

Barnhouse eventually sought the help of the Innocence Project through a letter he wrote from prison. The Innocence Project, working with the Wrongful Conviction Clinic at Indiana University McKinney, sought DNA testing of the sperm deposited on the victim’s vaginal swabs and the sperm deposited on the victim’s jeans. The Delaware County Prosecutor’s Office consented to the DNA testing. The same male DNA profile was identified on the sperm of the vaginal swabs and the sperm on the jeans. Barnhouse was excluded as the source of the sperm.

Based on these results, the Delaware County Prosecutor’s Office agreed that Barnhouse had been wrongly convicted, and jointly moved, with the Innocence Project, to vacate his convictions. A Delaware County Judge reversed his convictions on March 8, 2017, and based on a joint motion for release, the court released Barnhouse immediately to a supportive housing program where he was accepted and where he could receive the mental health services he needs. The court adjourned the case until May for further proceedings. On May 9, the Delaware County Prosecutor’s Office moved to officially dismiss the indictment pending against Barnhouse.

Since his release in March, Barnhouse has received round-the-clock care and services and is doing very well. He has also been reunited with his family after 25 years in prison as an innocent man. The Innocence Project and Frances Lee Watson, director of the Wrongful Conviction Clinic at Indiana University McKinney, notified Barnhouse of the news today.

In 2013, the FBI acknowledged that testimony asserting that a crime scene hair is a “match” to a particular defendant’s hair through microscopic hair comparison implies a level of certainty that exceeds the limits of science. A review by the FBI, the Department of Justice, the Innocence Project and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers of FBI analyst testimony and reports has revealed that analysts provided erroneous testimony or reports in more than 90 percent of cases reviewed so far. The analyst who provided the erroneous testimony in Barnhouse’s case is not subject to that review because the review only includes FBI analysts, not the many analysts throughout the U.S. who were trained by the FBI or relied on the same techniques and testimony that the FBI used.

“The only way for the state to know whether other people were wrongly convicted by erroneous hair testimony is for the state to conduct a thorough and independent review of all cases where microscopic hair analysis was conducted and contributed to a conviction,” said Watson. “I hope this heartbreaking case will spur the state to take immediate action.”

William Barnhouse on the day he was released, March 8, 2017, with Cardozo Law clinic student Kayla Mannucci and Innocence Project attorney Seema Saifee.

15 Comments

  1. Mary Ann Banks

    God bless you Mr. Barnhouse. I pray for the day my innocent husband is released.

  2. Vickie Howser

    Congratulations to Seema and everyone who has worked on his case. Good luck to him and I hope he lives a happy life now.

  3. Annabelle

    25 years is too much, even if he wasn’t innocent. God bless him and everyone who’s served more than is humane.

    • Pamela M Light

      I have to disagree if the person is guilty. I imagine you would as well if you were the victim. Thank God that they have finally released this innocent man!

  4. Janine

    My heart goes out to Mr. Bathhouse. I’m so glad he is out of prison, where he never belonged! I wish him nothing but good days ahead

  5. Rolf Schoeneborn

    I, as a European citizen, am appalled that the US justice system does not hesitate to inflict cruel and unusual punishment even on the innocent.

    I salute Mr. Barnhard for having kept the face,

    Running Rolf

  6. jan

    Many blessings on Mr. Barnhouse, his loved ones…and all of those who have helped him. It has robbed justice for the victim. Hasty charges and rushed persecutions contribute to this huge problem and (in) justice reform is a huge need across our country at local to federal levels.

  7. Donna English

    Very very happy for him and his family and a huge thank you to the innocence project people! They are such caring and heartfelt people that truly care about what goes wrong and to make it right when it is. I too await on my son’s case, he is another innocent one and ended up with life, no parole. I pray this will happen for him too and all others stuck like this…..keep up the great work innocence project workers, you are all our angels!

  8. Gail Kennon

    Dear Mr. Barnhouse..I’m sorry for all you’ve suffered and glad you are now freed from your guilty verdict and freed from prison…I hope there are happy years ahead for you.

  9. Audrey Gonzales

    My cousin is on deathrow in ohio hia name is Greg Esparza 179-450 he has appealed so many times and nothing. How can i help him thru the innocent project?

  10. David Ali

    Congratulations!!!! Thank you Innocent project for your hard work

  11. James Carroll

    It is so sad that many prosecutors are more interested in their conviction rate than actually serving justice. The people involved in convicting this innocent man should be ashamed.

  12. peter verwey

    I think that no system is flawless. But the more i read about the innocent project, the more i admire them. What i don’t understand is how a jury or judge can judge so easily about someones life. Sentenced on just a hair? Or just someone who testifies they think its him? Here in Holland we have similar cases of people being convicted for crimes they did not commit. And we have a basically fair system. But tunnel vision makes police and judges believe they cant be wrong. Thanks God for DNA testing. But i wonder how many people are in prison while being innocent? I read many times that judges deny DNA testing. Why for crying out loud? Its a simple test that can prove that someone is innocent. It should be standard procedure. I would be in favor of a national and international DNA databases. So that these terrible convictions never happen again.

    • Ken

      Yes, I agree something IS wrong with this….many (or at least some) of the Innocence Project cases seem to be peopple who were convicted EVEN WHEN THEY HAVE ALIBI’S AND MULTIPLE WITNESSES PROVING THEY WERE 50 MILES AWAY AT THE TIME THE CRIME WAS COMMITTED! How acn this be? I have always heard the line “thank goodness you have witnesses to prove you weren’t there,” yet people who have proof they weren’t there still get convicted guilty of the crme? Any system that allows that to occur is deeply flawed.

  13. Keith Acker

    Congratulations to Mr. Barnhouse and to everyone at the Innocence Project for their work on his case! Nothing upholds Justice more than the reversal of false convictions, especially when accompanied by a searching examination of how these dreadful mistakes are made in the first place.

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