Bennett Barbour was able to participate in his first ever Presidential election, but he never saw the real perpetrator arrested for the crime he was wrongfully convicted of. On February 7, 1978 a 19-year-old student at William and Mary was raped at gunpoint alone in her fiancé’s apartment. As soon as the rapist fled, the victim called police. When investigators arrived, the victim described the assailant as a man who weighed 145 pounds and was 5’ 6” tall. There were a number of rapes in the area at the time. One week after that attack, the victim was shown a photo lineup. The victim identified Barbour and then picked him out of two separate live lineups (both lineups included all the same people). Barbour, a newlywed handyman, was arrested and accused. Barbour was an unlikely suspect. Barbour weighed 30 pounds less than the assailant description. He also suffered from brittle bone disease making an attack unlikely. The evidence (hair and semen) was blood-typed and the results showed the attacker was Type A, Barbour was Type B.
The case proceeded to trial anyway. The case was circumstantial, heavily reliant on the victim’s testimony. Barbour presented alibi witnesses, but the jury convicted him anyway. According to the post-sentencing report, the police investigators had some doubts about his guilt. This may have weighed on his sentence, he was given 10 years in prison.
He spent 4 1/2 years in prison before being granted parole. In 2001, the Virginia Department of Forensic Science learned that some serologists who had performed blood-type testing on physical evidence from 1973 to 1988 kept samples of the evidence. In September 2004, then-Virginia Governor Mark Warner ordered that the DNA evidence in 31 sample cases be retested. This testing cleared two men who were convicted of rapes they did not commit (Phillip Leon Thurman and Willie Davidson). Warner then ordered the retesting of evidence from 800 cases between 1973 and 1988. After the testing was complete, the Virginia Department of Forensic Science refused to release the results. The Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project as well as several media organizations filed Freedom of Information Requests, but were repeatedly denied.
Eventually, the department released a partial list of the DNA exclusions of convicted individuals.
Barbour learned in 2012 that he was on that list. The University of Virginia School of Law’s Innocence Project agreed to represent him. An investigation revealed that despite the fact that the department would not publicly provide the information nor provide the information privately to defense lawyers, they did provide the information to prosecutors. The Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office did not contact Barbour about his case. Virginia authorities claim that they could not locate Barbour to inform him.
The DNA tests implicated a convicted rapist.
On May 24, 2012, the Supreme Court of Virginia issued a writ of actual innocence, formally clearing Barbour of the rape. Barbour passed away on January 10, 2013 after a long battle with bone cancer. He was 57.
This past Thursday, a jury convicted the man who matched the DNA samples. 58-year-old James Moses Glass Jr. was found guilty of rape, abduction with intent to defile, and two firearms violations. The jury recommended a sentence of life in prison plus 42 years.
“I know that this case is old. But justice delayed does not have to be justice denied,” Williamsburg Commonwealth’s Attorney Nate Green told the jury in closing arguments, “The commonwealth is seeking justice by righting a wrong that was done more than 30 years ago.”
Glass did not resemble the victim’s description either and Glass and Barbour do not resemble each other. The victim was unable to identify Glass as the rapist during cross-examination.