James Bain's case is unique. Not because he was wrongly convicted and freed by DNA evidence, overturning the entire case that convicted him. No, that stuff is commonplace now. What makes James unique is that he has the distinction of having served the longest amount of time behind bars who was ultimately freed on DNA evidence. And this highlights a huge problem. James was denied his requests for testing for years, saying that he had waited too long. It wasn't until Florida passed a new law that allowed cases to be reopened for DNA testing that his fifth and final rejection was overturned on appeal, which led to his freedom. Such laws should be on the books in every state, no questions.
The Case against 18 Year old James Bain
One night in 1974 in Lake Wales, Florida, someone broke into a home and took a 9 year old boy out of his bed to a local baseball diamond where the boy was raped. By the time he returned home, the police were already present. The victim described the perpetrator as between 17-18, whose name was Jim and who had a mustache and sideburns. The victim's uncle, a principal at James's school volunteered that that description fit James Bain. From that point forward the victim always referred to the rapist as 'Bain'. The police went to Bain's house where they found him. He had been home with his sister since approximately 10:30pm after attending a party and had fallen asleep watching television.
For the official identification of the perpetrator, the police arranged a photo lineup including Bain and only one other man with a mustache and sideburns! This does not make for an impartial identification. Not only that, according to the Florida Innocence Project, the police suggestively and improperly instructed the victim to pick out Bain's photo (not the photo of the person who assaulted him) which the victim did.
The case against Bain consisted mainly of the victim identification and the Serology findings from the victim's underwear. Regarding the Serology findings, FBI Analyst William Gavin stated that the findings showed a blood group B and that Bain was AB with a weak A. Conversely, the expert for the Defense, Richard Jones testified that Bain was AB with a strong A and that he could not have been the rapist. The DNA evidence has shown which side was correct.
As for Bain's defense, aside from the defense testimony mentioned above, there were plenty of witnesses to James having been at the aforementioned party prior to going home. The location of the rape was a full two miles from the party James was attending and his presence was noted to the degree that he would not have been able to sneak away, commit the crime, and be home by 10:30pm - Too many people had seen him. However, the defense only called four witnesses for his alibi, most of which were family. In case anyone hasn't noticed, calling the mother or sister to corroborate an alibi for a man accused of rape just isn't going to cut it. That is not enough for reasonable doubt for a lot of people. You have to corroborate the alibi with witnesses that have no reason to lie. And you have to bridge these witness statements across one another so that even if one or two are questionable, the whole of the witness statements creates a picture that resonates with the jurors and strikes at the prosecution's case. Needless to say, that wasn't done here, and it could have been.
As outlined in the opening, James had submitted for DNA testing several times and was each time rejected. I don't know what it is about this system that makes it seem okay to deny someone DNA testing when their livelihood hangs in the balance. If not for the statute that enabled DNA testing on older cases and the appellate court confirming James' right to have DNA testing, he would still be in prison today.
Beaming, Bain watched the quick proceedings in a Polk County courtroom, where Judge James Yancey told him, "I'm now signing the order, sir. You are a free man. Congratulations."
Sources and Links
James Bain Exonerated After 35 Years In Prison
James Bain - Florida Innocence Project
DNA Frees James Bain from Prison after 35 Years
Article written by Mike Palmer
February 16, 2014
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