The Other Side of Innocence

The Washington Post talks to a woman who wrongly identified a man for rape:


For so long, his face and his name were where I directed my anger," the Henrico County woman said in a recent interview. "That's gone now. He's not the name. He's not the face. "Now when I hear his name, I feel guilt. Obsessive guilt." 

DNA evidence has proven that Haynesworth, who was an 18-year-old high school dropout when he was arrested, did not rape the woman. Haynesworth, now 46, was released from prison Monday on parole and is fighting to clear his name. DNA exonerated him in a second rape as well. But he was convicted of two other attacks for which there is no genetic evidence to test.

Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II (R) and two prosecutors, who have become convinced that Haynesworth was wrongly convicted in all of the attacks, are supporting his petition to the Virginia Court of Appeals for a writ of actual innocence. So is the Henrico rape victim. 

"It's been 27 years," she said. "I wish that somehow all that time could be given back to him. But it's impossible."

One reason for the police to get it right, obviously, is to make sure someone innocent doesn't go to jail. But almost equally important is making sure that the victim has some security the perpetrator will actually go to jail. I understand why the woman feels guilty, but she isn't really to blame. As they say in the piece, memory isn't like video-tape.


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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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