DNA clears Texas man jailed 12 years for rape he didn't commit

by Courtney Zavala

A Texas man who spent a dozen years in prison for a rape he didn't commit was a man free man Tuesday after a judge ordered him released on a $10 bond.

Ronald Taylor was released from jail Tuesday afternoon, a short time after state District Judge Denise Collins signed off on an agreement between prosecutors and his lawyers from the Texas Innocence Network and the Innocence Project.

"I feel good, man, feel good. Thank God," Taylor said. "Getting upset don't do nothing but make you sick, so I quit getting upset."

Harris County District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal made a rare courtroom appearance to apologize to Taylor, who was convicted in 1995 of raping a woman two years earlier.

"I felt like he was owed an apology and I wanted to congratulate Mr. Scheck and his folks for bringing it to our attention," Rosenthal said.

The man whose DNA matches the evidence found on the victim's bed sheet is already in prison for failing to register as a sex offender.

He will not be prosecuted in this case because the statute of limitations has expired.

Dorothy Henderson, Taylor's mother, smiled broadly after the hearing as she shared plans to make him a home-cooked meal, possibly pork ribs, his favorite dish.

"We've just been praying and I just had faith and I knew, I knew within my heart that one day he would get out," Henderson said. "I didn't know how long, but I knew one day he would."

Taylor, 47, was convicted and sentenced to 60 years after the victim picked him out of a lineup.

She said, however, she had caught only a glimpse of her attacker's face.

"You can't get a more telling case than Ronnie Taylor. If you had correctly identified the semen stain, if the crime lab had been able to do that, which is the most basic operation you can imagine from a crime lab.  The DNA testing was available in 1993, 1995 to exonerate him immediately," attorney Barry Scheck said.
At the trial, an analyst with the Houston police crime lab testified that she had tested the bed sheet and found no semen.

This summer, a private lab in New Orleans retested the bed sheet and found semen that was matched to Roosevelt Carroll, currently in prison for failing to register as a sex offender.

The Innocence Project, which seeks to free the wrongly convicted, paid for the retesting.

Carroll also has been convicted of burglary with intent to commit sexual assault.

Taylor's initial efforts for post-conviction DNA testing were unsuccessful.

An independent audit of the Houston crime lab in 2002 raised concerns about DNA analysis procedures.

In June a former U.S. Justice Department inspector hired by the city cited hundreds of "serious and pervasive" flaws in forensic cases mishandled by the lab's DNA and serology sections.

Taylor's case was not one of those identified in the audit.

The inspector also suggested a special master, such as a retired judge, be appointed to review 180 cases in question. City officials have opposed that recommendation.

Rosenthal has said he objects to an unelected official leading the review. But he said he's willing to work with the Innocence Project and other groups to find out if other inmates should be freed.