DNA Testing Proves Gilbert Man’s Innocence in 2003 Rape

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Lindsay Herf • Arizona Justice Project


For Immediate Release

December 22, 2010

DNA Testing Proves Gilbert Man’s Innocence in 2003 Rape

Phoenix, AZ – DNA testing proves that Arizona Justice Project client John Watkins did not commit the 2003 Gilbert rape for which he has served more than seven years in prison. Last Thursday evening, Watkins’ was released from custody after having his conviction vacated and the case against him dismissed.

On May 23, 2003, a 48-year-old woman was raped while walking in a residential neighborhood in Gilbert.  Watkins, only 19 years old when the crime occurred, was convicted in 2004 and sentenced to 14 years in prison. Though the victim identified a different suspect from a home video taken of boys in the neighborhood, Watkins was arrested and his photo placed in a suggestive police lineup, in which he was the only suspect made to wear the same color shirt as the actual perpetrator. The victim wrongly identified Watkins in the lineup. After being subjected to 4.5 hours of police interrogation, Watkins falsely confessed to the sexual assault, inaccurately reporting the description of the crime that took place. Once Watkins was in custody, investigators failed to pursue other leads in the case.  Facing a prison sentence on unrelated charges and at a time before the State of Arizona had newer DNA testing technology, Watkins accepted a plea deal in the case.

Throughout the last seven years, Watkins maintained his innocence claiming he was at home with his parents during the time of the crime. His parents signed affidavits confirming his alibi.

DNA testing on the victim’s rape kit conducted in 2010 confirms that John Watkins was not the perpetrator that committed this crime.

“John spent 7.5 years in prison for a crime somebody else committed,” stated Lindsay Herf, an attorney with the Arizona Justice Project. “Unless the state re-opens an investigation on this case, the true assailant will never be caught and may go on to commit another offense.”

To date, there have been 261 DNA exonerations nationwide. Faulty witness identification played a role in 75% and false confessions in 24% of these cases.

Since 1998, The Arizona Justice Project has been working to prevent and overturn wrongful convictions in the State of Arizona. In partnership with the Arizona Attorney General’s Office under a U.S Department of Justice DNA testing grant, the Arizona Justice Project was approached by Watkins for assistance on his case.  After reviewing the case with the assistance of law students from ASU’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law and private defense attorney Ulises Ferragut, the Justice Project submitted the DNA evidence for testing by the Arizona DPS Crime Lab. The results provide the joint DNA testing program with its first DNA exoneration in Arizona.