MINNEAPOLIS (KMSP) - In November, Minneapolis Police arrested 34-year-old Charles Stevenson after a 15-year-old girl said he raped her twice as she walked home from a friend’s house in North Minneapolis.
Investigators say the victim started shaking and burst into tears when she saw Stevenson’s picture in a line-up of sex offenders.
However, he turned out to be the wrong guy.
After two months behind bars, DNA tests came back showing it was not Stevenson who had committed the crime, but 34-year-old Harold Davis.
"I'm glad DNA was available to use in this case. In the pre DNA days, this is one of those guys who could have spent a long time in prison for a crime he didn't commit," said Julie Jonas with the Minnesota Innocence Project.
If this case sounds familiar, it shares some similarities with the popular Netflix series “Making a Murderer” that follows Steven Avery’s life after he was released from prison after serving 18 years for a rape he didn’t commit. It was DNA that overturned Avery’s rape conviction. Avery was also convicted with the help of testimony from a victim who falsely identified him.
Jonas says roughly one third of suspects set to go to trial are cleared by DNA evidence. Jonas goes on to say there have been 333 DNA exoneration around the country, with 75% of those convictions stemming from mistaken witness identifications.
"Think about it. Memory is very fallible especially during stressful situations. There's been studies done on how stress affects the ability to remember," Jonas said.
Jonas says shows like “Making a Murderer” are important because they shine a spotlight on potential failures in the justice system, though she says in Stevenson’s case is different because the real rapist was quickly found.
"The system worked but at what cost to him before that happened? What did he lose. Don't know if he had a job, reputation, hire counsel all of things need to be factored into the short term loss of liberty."
Stevenson has previous convictions for sexual assault and aiding and abetting prostitution, so even though these rapes charges were dropped he is still in the Hennepin County Jail for failure to register as a predatory offender.