Robert Nelson, a Kansas City, Missouri man who was wrongfully convicted in 1984 of forcible rape and robbery was exonerated through post-conviction DNA testing. Luckily, Nelson’s evidence was preserved and DNA was present. The testing identified the actual perpetrators of the crime. Jackson County Circuit Judge David Michael Byrn ordered Nelson’s release, which was stipulated to by Nelson’s attorney, Laura O’Sullivan, and the Jackson County prosecutor, Jean Peters Baker. O’Sullivan is also the Legal Director of the Midwest Innocence Project. On December 16, 1983, two men armed with a sawed-off shotgun forced their way into a 24-year-old woman’s home. They raped her, robbed her of jewelry and cash and then escaped. That year, there was a spree of 65 rapes leading the Ad Hoc Group Against Crime to offer a $1,000 reward for an anonymous tip leading to the arrest of the perpetrators.
Police reports obtained by the Innocence Project showed that an anonymous tipster called the TIPS hotline reporting two brothers with the last name Ramsey. The two brothers were, at the time, awaiting trial for robbery. A detective followed up, but the police database yielded a lot of men with the last name Ramsey. So, instead, he found two brothers awaiting trial for robbery named Nelson. Police showed the mug shots of the brothers to the victim in a photo lineup. She couldn’t identify anyone. In a live lineup, she tentatively identified Robert Nelson. With only that evidence, Nelson and his older brother were charged with forcibly raping the woman and robbing her. Nelson was tried by a jury, convicted, and sentenced to 58 years. Prosecutors dropped the charges against his brother for “insufficient evidence.”
Nelson was eventually able to file a post-conviction DNA testing motion that was granted in 2011. The Regional Crime Lab completed tests involving the rap kit using more advanced technology than available at the original trial. Additional materials were sent to the Bode Technology Lab in Virginia. The Midwest Innocence Project paid for that testing. The testing proves that neither Nelson brother had anything to do with the crime. The profiles were consistent with two individuals in the database.
“The flaws in our justice system can only be corrected by those who seek the truth,” says O’Sullivan of the Midwest Innocence Project, “Thankfully, the Jackson County prosecutors were interested…Their cooperation led to Robert Nelson’s release and the identification of the true perpetrators in this crime. But this is only the silver lining to the tragedy that Robert endured, convicted of a crime he did not commit.”
Nelson served almost 30 years for a crime he didn’t commit.
If you recall, the post Government Employee Fired For Helping An Innocent Prisoner, is also about the Robert Nelson case. A clerk was fired for giving Robert Nelson’s sister a document to help secure his release, which violated the court’s rules barring assistance to litigants.
- Read More About Robert Nelson’s case here.