On Wednesday, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe exonerated a man who served 29 years in prison for a crime it is now revealed he did not commit.
McAuliffe, a Democrat, said that Michael Kenneth McAlister was wrongfully charged for attempted rape and subsequently convicted. McAuliffe’s announcement came after prosecutors and law enforcement officials determined McAlister’s innocence.
In a statement, McAuliffe said, “Today I am issuing an absolute pardon for Michael Kenneth McAlister. My staff and I have carefully and thoroughly reviewed the documentation in this case and concluded that a pardon is appropriate in light of the overwhelming evidence, including a recent confession by another individual, pointing to Mr. McAlister’s actual innocence of the crime for which he was convicted.”
He said in a separate statement, “Mr. McAlister has served 29 years in prison, and he had faced the potential to be civilly committed for a crime he did not commit. A number of individuals in the law enforcement community, including the Commonwealth’s Attorney for the city of Richmond, have concluded that this crime was committed by another individual, and that Mr. McAlister should be freed to return to his family and his community. I have reached the same conclusion, and I have acted in accordance with the law.
“The integrity of our justice system depends on the guarantee of a fair trial that is informed by all available evidence. Protecting that integrity requires quick action in the event that new evidence comes to light.
According to Fox News, McAlister was taken in custody on February 1986 on charges of abduction and attempted rape of a woman taken from an apartment complex laundry room in Richmond at knifepoint. The victim later identified McAlister from a photo lineup.
The photograph of the real perpetrator, Norman Bruce Derr, had not been included. He had a record of indecent exposure and was living only four miles from the apartment complex where the crime was committed.
According to The Washington Post, McAlister “bore an uncanny resemblance to a serial rapist active in the same area and time.”
The mistaken arrest was a case of misidentification. The victim was only able to get a partial view of her attacker when she was trying to fight him off and clawed at his stocking mask.
Virginia prisons spokeswoman Lisa Kinney was unable to shed light as to when McAlister will be released from jail.
McAlister’s sister, Denise Haas, expressed her joyousness following the decision.
“We just found out 30 minutes ago, and we can’t stop crying. We’re so happy,” she said.
Shawn Armbrust, executive director of the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project, which supported McAlister’s release, said, “We’re thrilled the governor did the right thing here and that he’s giving Mike the freedom he’s deserved for so long.
“I know these aren’t easy decisions for governors to make, and we are grateful that Gov. McAuliffe did it and did it so quickly.”
Speaking with McAlister over the phone, he said that he was heading home and “looking forward to a nice home cooked meal,” McAuliffe’s Twitter post said.
Just spoke w/Michael McAlister over the phone. He indicated he's on his way home right now & looking forward to nice home cooked meal. -TRM
— Terry McAuliffe (@GovernorVA) May 14, 2015
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