Suspect exonerated after fifteen years in prison with new DNA evidence.
Darrill Henry was exonerated this month after spending more than fifteen years behind bars. He was released from prison two months after Judge Dennis Waldron granted post-conviction relief and ordered a new trial based on DNA evidence that was introduced.
On June 15, 2004, an 89-year-old woman was confronted in her kitchen and stabbed more than a dozen times. Her house was then set on fire in an apparent robbery. Her daughter, who had come to check on her mother that day, was shot on the porch. Three neighbors saw a stranger in a red shirt leaving the scene. Henry’s prison conviction rested solely on identification by these eyewitnesses.
“Mr. Henry’s conviction rests on eyewitness identifications that were obtained through procedures known to lead to misidentifications,” said Vanessa Potkin, Innocence Project’s director of post-conviction litigation. “No other evidence implicated him in the crime. Mr. Henry, who was raising his two young children, was applying for jobs downtown miles away from where the crime occurred. The new DNA evidence provides unprecedented scientific support for his innocence. In vacating Mr. Henry’s conviction, the court recognized that as a matter of fundamental fairness the DNA evidence should be presented to a new jury.”
The first eyewitness didn’t even identify Henry was the perpetrator initially. Seven years later, after being arrested, the witness claimed to suddenly remember it was Henry he saw that day. The other two were presented with line-ups and the only one in the line with a red shirt on was Henry.
On April 2, the court set bail in Henry’s case, which his family was able to quickly raise in an effort to have him home. However, for the next five weeks, the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office filed four appeals of the court’s grant of bail alleging Henry’s bail should be increased to $8 million. On May 6, the Louisiana Supreme Court rejected the state’s final appeal of bail and he was finally able to go home.
At the time of his arrest, Henry’s son Darrill was six and his daughter Daranika was eight years old. Darrill, Jr is now 22 years old, and Daranika is 23 and five months pregnant with Henry’s first grandchild.
“When Darrill went away his children were just starting elementary school, and one of their most cherished memories was having their father pick them up from school,” said Vanessa Potkin, director of post-conviction litigation at the Innocence Project. “Today Darrill Jr, now 22 years old, made the drive to Angola to pick his dad up, and finally bring him home. Given the new evidence of his innocence, we hope that he is fully vindicated of these charges soon.”
Henry has always maintained his innocence, indicating he was out of the area the day of the crime. DNA recovered from underneath the victim’s fingernails led authorities to ultimately determine he could not have committed the crime.
“I never lost faith that this day would come,” said Henry. “I appreciate what everyone has done to fight to bring me home.”
Judge Waldron noted that “eyewitness testimony is at the same time the most trusted of evidence and too often the least reliable…The advent of DNA evidence has provided both the prosecution and the defense with a most valuable, convincing and compelling evidentiary tool.”
The Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office is appealing.