Last week, the Virginia Supreme Court granted a writ of actual innocence in the case of Winston Scott, fully exonerating him for a crime he served time for from 1976 to 1981.
In 1975, then-19-year-old Scott was arrested and charged with the rape of a 24-year-old woman. He was convicted largely off of a composite sketch and a blood-type test. According to court documents, the blood type test was not a match on the first try, but unexplainably matched on the second.
Court documents also show the victim didn’t work with detectives on the composite sketch until a month or so following the incident.
“You have eyewitnesses testifying that they’re very, very certain of someone’s guilt and that’s really persuasive to juries, even though confidence at trial is not necessarily correlated to accuracy,” said Executive Director for the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project Shawn Armbrust.
The Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project picked up Scott’s case in 2016. Based out of Washington, D.C., the organization provides pro-bono legal assistance to innocent, convicted prisoners.
Scott’s case was one of hundreds reviewed by the Virginia Department of Forensic Science as part of the state’s Old Case Testing Project, to sample DNA in cases in which physical evidence had been kept.
According to court documents and Scott’s defense attorney, Frances Walters, the victim woke up in the early hours of the morning on July 24, 1975 to an unknown man standing her bedroom. It appeared he had entered a balcony door, which the victim and her roommates often left unlocked. After raping her, he informed the victim he’d taken two dollars from her purse.
Before calling the police, the victim put on a pair of jeans to use a bathroom she shared with her roommates. A semen sample taken from the jeans was tested and did not match Scott’s DNA.
The Office of the Attorney General opposed the MAIP’s first request for writ of actual innocence, suggesting there wasn’t evidence the jeans belonged to the victim.
“I can never repay them for what they did for me,” said Scott. “As soon as I talked to them I knew there was somebody that really cared and was going to do everything they could to help me and they did. They went above and beyond what I thought they would ever do.”