DNA-cleared man free after three decades
http://www.usatoday.com -- The last time Raymond Towler was a free man, the burgeoning musician was playing a lot of disco.
The Ohio man, convicted in 1981 of raping an 11-year-old girl in a Cleveland park, walked free Wednesday. DNA evidence returned this week exonerated Towler, and a judge ordered him released after an emotional hearing in court.
Towler, who had been given a life sentence, spent nearly 30 years in prison.
“He’s an incredible artist and musician. He had just turned 24,” said Mark Godsey, director of the Ohio Innocence Project, who helped Towler’s case.
Towler, now 52, hugged sobbing family members after the hearing Wednesday and deflected questions about demanding an apology for his wrongful incarceration.
“It just took a couple years to get it,” he said. “It finally happened. I’ve been waiting.”
In a brief session, Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court Judge Eileen Gallagher recapped the case, discussed the recently processed DNA evidence and threw out his conviction. She also told him that he can sue over his ordeal.
“You’re free,” the judge said, leaving the bench to shake Towler’s hand at the defense table. The judge choked back tears as she offered Towler a traditional Irish blessing.
People released from prison after being exonerated through DNA evidence has become more frequent in recent years, according to the Innocence Project. After the first exonerations in 1989, it took 13 years to free the first 100 people, and five years to free the next 100. Towler is the 254th.
Over the past decade, states have passed dozens of laws allowing inmates to have access to DNA evidence that could exonerate them, and requiring law enforcement agencies to preserve DNA evidence for future testing.
“We’ve just seen too many cases now where the wrong person goes to prison,” said Alaska state Sen. Hollis French, a Democrat who sponsored a similar bill last month that is now awaiting the governor’s signature. “Folks are sensitive to the idea that it’s a great backstop to our system.”
Godsey said Towler wants to help pass similar laws to help others. In the meantime, Towler was getting back to life outside prison.
After a two-hour pizza lunch with friends and family, Towler went off to spend time reconnecting with relatives. Godsey said he has been offered a job to play organ for a local church.
How will he adjust? “Just take a deep breath and just enjoy life right now,” Towler said.
Contributing: The Associated Press