Clarence Harrison was exonerated in 2004 after serving more than 17 years in Georgia prisons for a rape he didn’t commit. He had sought DNA testing since 1989 and tests finally proved his innocence after he became a client of the Georgia Innocence Project (GIP) in 2003.
The Crime and Investigation
Early on the morning of October 25, 1986, a 25-year-old woman was attacked as she walked in the rain to a bus stop in Decatur, Georgia. The assailant approached the woman, hit her in the face, and then dragged her to an embankment. The assailant raped and sodomized the woman and dragged her to two other locations, raping her in each location. At some point during the assault, the assailant stole the woman’s wristwatch, as well as her money. Two of her front teeth were broken.
The Arrest and Trial
Police arrested Harrison in early November 1986. He maintained his innocence from the outset. The victim identified Harrison in court as her attacker. A forensic analyst testified that serological testing on swabs from the rape kit showed blood group markers consistent with Harrison and the victim and could exclude 22% of people as possible perpetrators.
A DeKalb County jury convicted Harrison on March 18, 1987, of rape and robbery, and Harrison was sentenced to life in prison plus 40 years.
Appeals and DNA testing
In September 1988, at the request of the DeKalb County Public Defender’s office, slides from the rape kit were sent to a commercial lab for DNA analysis. That lab was unable to perform DNA analysis on the slides, but Harrison continued to pursue DNA testing. In February 2003 he contacted the Georgia Innocence Project and the organization accepted him as a client.
In February 2003, Harrison sent a hand-written letter to the newly opened Georgia Innocence Project.
"Dear sirs, my name is Clarence Harrison. I am presently being held falsely accused of crimes I could not have committed," he wrote. "I am seeking to vindicate myself by the only means I know how."
Interns from Georgia State University College of Law and Emory University School of Law saw the letter as worthy of further investigation. After finding slides from the rape kit previously thought to have been destroyed, modern DNA testing proved that Harrison was not the rapist.
On August 31, 2004, DeKalb Superior Court Judge Cynthia J. Becker granted the DeKalb County District Attorney's motion for a new trial and request that Harrison be released immediately. All charges were dismissed.
Three weeks after his release, Harrison married a woman who befriended him while he was in prison. Since his release, Harrison has worked to keep a positive attitude and help deter young people from crime.
The Georgia General Assembly compensated Harrison with a one million dollar sum payable as an annuity over twenty years. Harrison quoted stating "Trill is as Trill does.."