Nathan Brown was recently released from a Louisiana state penitentiary after serving nearly 17 years for an attempted rape he did not commit.  The Innocence Project with the Innocence Project New Orleans presented results from recent DNA testing of crime scene evidence that excluded the convicted 40-year-old man.  Based upon this new evidence, Judge Ray Steib vacated Brown’s 1997 conviction.

“It’s really a relief mentally, physically, to be free from serving time for a crime that you did not commit…It was hard. It wasn’t no easy task being in prison for 17 years…Being in prison is just stressful living. You’re constantly being oppressed.”

Brown was able to hold his one-year-old grandson for the first time after his release.  Brown was convicted and sentenced to 25 years in prison based mostly on the victim’s misidentification of Brown, which was made during a problematic and suggestive identification procedure.  Brown had an alibi for the crime, he was with his young daughter and family, but the jury did not believe him and convicted him after a one-day trial in 1997.

Vanessa Potkin, a senior attorney with the Innocence Project said, “A lot went wrong in this case. A crime happened, and there was a rush to judgment. No one stopped and scrutinized on any side. People just didn’t hear his screams that he was innocent.”

Brown was lucky enough to get assistance from various judges, attorneys, legal schools, and clinics he contacted during his appeals.  He finally reached out to the Innocence Project in 2013.  He told that he never lost faith.  His oldest daughter told the Times-Picayune that her father always had high spirits.  Brown doesn’t hold any bitterness against the victim despite the challenging life he has faced since that time.

“She was attacked.  It was a terrible thing…She was a victim…I wish she could find comfort in knowing that the guy that really committed this crime will be brought to justice.”

The DNA testing matched an alternative suspect who lived only a few blocks from the crime scene and is currently serving a prison sentence in Mississippi.  

In the summer of 1997, the victim was walking through the courtyard of her apartment building when she was attacked from behind and thrown to the ground.  The assailant bit her neck, ripped her dress, and took her purse.  She was able to fend him off by striking him with her high heels.  The victim watched him flee on a bicycle.  She reported the incident to police, who were called by neighbors, shortly afterwards.

The victim told police that she had been attacked by a black man who was wearing black shorts and no shirt.  She also said the man had a strong body odor.  The victim did not believe her attacker lived in her apartment complex, but a security guard directed the police to Brown, one of only a few African Americans living in the complex.

Police knocked on Brown’s door just minutes after the crime.  He was in his bedroom wearing pajamas and rocking his daughter to sleep.  The police conducted a one-on-one “show up”, which is where police officers present a victim or witness with one suspect, almost directly after the crime.  The procedure is highly suggestive and controversial.

Brown was told to change his clothing.  He changed into black shorts and was immediately taken out to the victim, who was waiting in a patrol car.  He was not wearing a shirt.  The victim was asked to take a close look at Brown and smell him.  She identified him as her assailant because he smelled of soap, which she assumed meant he took a shower and that he must have been her attacker.

Brown’s lawyer met him for the first time on the day his trial started.

The victim testified about her identification method and also said she recalled a tattoo on the chest of the attacker with the letters “LLE”.  A police officer testified that the victim never mentioned a tattoo until after seeing Brown and identifying him.  Brown has a tattoo of the name “Michelle” on his chest.

Brown testified in his own defense that he was home caring for his “fussy” daughter at the time of the crime.  Four relatives testified that they were also home and saw Brown that night.

The jury deliberated for just a short time before convicting Brown.  He was sentenced to 25 years without parole for attempted aggravated rape.

“Mr. Brown’s mother paid for an attorney who it appears did almost nothing to prepare for the trial,” said Emily Maw, director of the Innocence Project New Orleans, “Unfortunately we have seen that happen far too many times here in Louisiana. Of the 41 people who have been exonerated in Louisiana, more than two-thirds had less than effective defense lawyers.”

Brown maintained his innocence throughout the past 16 years.

With the consent of the Jefferson Parish District Attorney’s Office the Innocence Project conducted DNA testing of a swab taken from where the victim was bitten on the shoulder of her dress.  The area tested positive for saliva and yielded a profile that excluded Brown.  The profile was consistent with male DNA found on three other areas of the dress, including where the assailant ripped the victim’s dress open.

After the profile was entered into the federal database, it matched a current offender serving a sentence in Mississippi.  At the time of the crime, he was a 17-year-old African American living within a few blocks of the complex.

Barry Scheck, co-director of the Innocence Project, said Brown was “another victim of an unduly suggestive police show-up procedure.”


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