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Tulsa judge overturns rape conviction after man struggles for 30 years to prove his innocence

Additional reading materials: DNA evidence undermines Henry Jameson’s rape conviction after 24 years in prison, as prosecutors fight efforts to clear his name.

A judge on Tuesday threw out the conviction of a Tulsa man who spent 24 years in prison after being convicted of rape. Border Last year, a profile of William Henry Jamerson was published that presented new evidence challenging his conviction.

In overturning the conviction, District Judge David Guten said that “newly discovered evidence undermines confidence in the verdict” from 1991.

Jamerson watched Guten closely as the judge delivered his remarks, then hugged his attorney, Dan Smolen, after Guten announced he was overturning the verdict. Jamerson’s friends and family, more than a dozen of whom attended the hearing, erupted in cheers.

“It’s a blessing,” Jamerson said later, noting his “mixed emotions” as he reflected on all he had lost in prison. “I lost a lot. My three brothers are gone… I still have my little brother, my mom and my sister, and they were there for me.”

Jamerson’s 1991 conviction was based largely on the results of semen analysis collected during an examination of sexual assault victim Kayleen Dubbs and her alleged identification of Jamerson, including from police mugshots.

Border does not disclose the identities of sexual assault victims, but Dubbs, who attended Tuesday’s hearing, agreed during numerous interviews to reveal her identity.

William Henry Jamerson, left, hugs Kayleen Dubbs after Jamerson’s conviction was overturned Tuesday. Jamerson was convicted of raping Dubbs in 1991, but his conviction was overturned after Dubbs recanted her confession and a semen sample taken during the crime was found to be a match for Jamerson’s DNA. DYLAN GOFORTH/The Frontier

In 2022, Jamerson’s defense team found semen collected during Dubbs’ sexual assault investigation. New tests on the sample ruled out Jamerson as the source. Dubbs spoke with Border in 2023 and said she did not name Jamerson as the assailant who attacked her in 1991. Dubbs, who was 16 at the time of the attack, said police first told her it was Jamerson who attacked her.

Guten reasoned that if the jury had known the DNA did not belong to Jamerson, and Dubbs had testified that she did not think Jamerson was her assailant, the trial outcome likely would have been different.

Dubbs said Border After Tuesday’s hearing, she said helping clear Jamerson’s name was a significant moment for her.

“To hear the judge finally listen to us and do what’s right means everything to me,” Dubbs said. “It’s been a long time coming.”

After the hearing, Dubbs and Jamerson embraced outside the courtroom.

“I am so sorry,” Dubbs told Jamerson and his family members.

Smolen said after the hearing that Jamerson’s case was an example of a flawed justice system.

“This case is a profound illustration of how broken the criminal justice system has been for years and how broken it continues to be,” Smolen said. “It needs to be fixed so people like Henry Jamerson don’t spend their entire lives in prison.”

Jamerson said he harbored anger toward Dubbs during the years he was in prison, but his sister urged him to forgive her.

“My sister told me that you have to forgive to move forward,” Jamerson said. “It’s over now, and I thank her for going out there and clearing my name.”

“You’re innocent,” Dubbs replied. “You always were.”

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Authorities said during Jamerson’s 1991 trial that semen analysis from Dubbs placed Jamerson among a “narrow group” of people who could have been rapists.

At the time, advanced DNA techniques were not widely used. Instead, police in his case relied on more primitive tests to determine whether blood had been shed, allowing them to determine his blood type.

Trial transcripts show prosecutors told jurors the tests could not confirm that Jamerson was the source, but they could not rule him out either. It took about three hours for jurors to return a guilty verdict, and Jamerson was sentenced to 34 years in prison for the three felonies.

Jamerson has maintained for more than three decades that he did not rape Dubbs, and in letters and court filings, has asked the Tulsa County District Attorney’s Office to find and test a DNA kit. Authorities said each time evidence from the sexual assault investigation was destroyed.

But those repeated police claims were wrong. Evidence that police had insisted for more than two decades had been destroyed was found last year in a police property warehouse. After that evidence was reviewed, Jamerson was ruled out as a source.

Smolen argued that without positive test results and without Dubbs identifying Jamerson, there was no longer any evidence linking him to the crime.

Tulsa County prosecutors argued against overturning Jamerson’s conviction, blaming Dubbs and Jamerson for failing to come forward sooner.

Assistant District Attorney Kevin Leitch told the judge that he sometimes questioned why the state tried to uphold the conviction, given that Jamerson had already served his sentence and been released from prison. But Leitch said the jury found Jamerson guilty, and even with the newly discovered DNA evidence and Dubbs’ appeal, it was too late to overturn the conviction.

Leitch asked why it took more than 30 years for Dubbs to say she did not believe Jamerson was her attacker?

“Thirty-three years later and you haven’t done anything to fix it?” Leitch said.

The judge noted in his ruling that Jamerson claimed in court documents that Tulsa police and the Tulsa County District Attorney’s Office withheld information vital to his defense, known as a Brady violation.

“Evidence that appears to be relevant has apparently been suppressed,” he said, referring to biological samples taken during the rape investigation.

“What is most disturbing is that there is evidence that someone other than Mr. Jamerson has been identified as the assailant. … That should be disclosed,” Guten said.

Prosecutors informed Guten they intended to appeal his conviction.

Dubbs said Border She was a poor, pregnant teenager at the time of the attack and trusted the police to tell her the truth.

“They made me believe it was his DNA, and they harassed me and told me it was him, and they gave me his name,” Dubbs said. “They kept me out of courtrooms because I was pregnant and young… I couldn’t read the newspaper, I couldn’t watch TV. They wouldn’t let me.

“They hid me from everything, otherwise this wouldn’t have happened.”