05/04/08 — Suspect to be indicted for rape

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Suspect to be indicted for rape

By Nick Hiltunen
Published in News on May 4, 2008 2:00 AM

A spot of DNA evidence proved one man innocent of a 1987 rape. Now, prosecutors will try to use the drop of semen to convict someone else.

A grand jury meets Monday to decide if there is enough evidence to indict a suspect in the rape of a 12-year-old girl at her home in Jefferson Park.

Superior Court Judge Jerry Braswell presides over the grand jury, expected to hear evidence that an imprisoned man's DNA matches a spot on the girl's nightgown.

Chris Mumma, the N.C. Center on Actual Innocence lawyer who helped free Dwayne Dail after he was convicted and served 18 years in prison, said authorities knew they had a DNA match in August.

"They had a match when they had the exoneration," Ms. Mumma said. "That is confirmed. It's fact."

Ms. Mumma once complained that it was taking too long to use the match to try the imprisoned suspect for Dail's former charges.

Now, Ms. Mumma said she better understands the priorities of police departments.

"I would say it's probably because they're very busy trying to get people who are out on the streets committing crimes, and this person was incarcerated, so there was no danger to the public.

"He (the imprisoned suspect) wasn't going anywhere, so I imagine that's a big part of it," Ms. Mumma said.

Dail, reached by phone at his new Florida home, said he is cautiously optimistic about the potential for a suspect to be indicted.

"I am just waiting to see what happens," Dail said. "Before I speak, I want to know exactly what is going on with the whole thing."

In 1989, now-pardoned Dwayne Allen Dail was convicted of the rape, sending him to prison for 18 years.

Dail always proclaimed his innocence, so adamantly that he passed up a plea bargain that would have shortened his sentence dramatically.

After his imprisonment, Dail and sister Diana Davis began a long, difficult fight to free him that took a toll on Mrs. Davis' health.

But Dail's life turned around when Ms. Mumma and the N.C. Center of Actual Innocence she leads took interest in his case.

Ms. Mumma and aides discovered that evidence from the 1987 rape was still at the Goldsboro Police Department.

Under normal conditions, the evidence would have been destroyed.

But for reasons unknown, a now-deceased officer set aside a box of evidence that included the 12-year-old victim's nightgown.

After DNA testing showed Dail was not the rapist, District Attorney Branny Vickory immediately asked a judge to free him.

A few months later, Gov. Mike Easley extended Dail a pardon. That pardon made Dail eligible for about $20,000 a year to compensate his wrongful imprisonment.

The mother of Dail's child Chris, 18, sued for back child support payments, but later dropped the case.

Now, Dail and Ms. Mumma are touring the country speaking to forensics experts, law enforcement, students and others.

"We've probably spoken 15-20 times together," Mrs. Mumma said. "He tells his story and I talk about the policy issues that are related to his wrongful conviction."

The pair speak tomorrow at Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers, an event co-sponsored by the American Academy of Forensic Sciences.

But although Dail is out of prison and enjoying a new life, the challenges of being locked up for so long continue to take a toll, Ms. Mumma said.

"It's getting harder and harder for Dwayne every day, not easier," Ms. Mumma said. "The first month of freedom, you're just happy to be free.

"But now he's dealing with the reality of what happened to him. So I think that this (a possible indictment) is one thing that will help."

If the grand jury does return an indictment, Dail vows to attend every minute of the trial.

Dail said he hopes the legal system works correctly in its second attempt to convict a man of climbing through a window and raping a 12-year-old.

"I do hope that they did a much more thorough job of investigating this one than they did on mine," Dail said.