innocence blog

A Web log for the Innocence Institute of Point Park University

Monday, October 31, 2005

Rapist's file now includes a confessionRULING:

Comments to parole board conflict with innocence claims.

By TATABOLINE BRANT

Anchorage Daily News(Published: October 30, 2005)

A confession that convicted rapist William Osborne made to his parole board last year may come back to haunt him.
Osborne, 33, for years has battled for new DNA tests that he says, given new technology, will help clear him. He maintains he is innocent of the crime a jury concluded he committed: the brutal beating and rape of a prostitute in Anchorage one winter night in 1993.
Osborne's comments to his parole board say otherwise, and the state last month argued that they should be added to Osborne's official court record, so that the judges trying to decide whether to allow new tests can consider them.
To the state's delight, Superior Court Judge Sharon Gleason ruled this month to add Osborne's parole board comments -- usually not public records -- to the court file.
"I'm very gratified that she put an end to this nonsense -- this charade that you've got a man who's consistently maintained his innocence," prosecutor Jay Fayette said Friday.
"It doesn't mean anything" except more legal wrangling, said Osborne's attorney, Randall Cavanaugh. "We'll just make it all messy, that's all it means."
More than 160 wrongly convicted people have been exonerated nationwide in recent years through post-conviction DNA testing, according the New York-based Innocence Project, a nonprofit that is supporting Osborne's push for new tests.
A study of 111 of the exonerations shows that more than a quarter involved false confessions or admissions of guilt, according to the Washington, D.C.-based Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project.
Cavanaugh said Osborne's confession before the parole board was a lie too -- a desperate measure by a man who has been locked away for more than a decade for something he has maintained since his arrest he didn't do. Osborne saw a chance at freedom and tried to take it by telling the board what it wanted to hear, Cavanaugh said.
According to court records, Osborne told the parole board that his low self-esteem led him to help another man beat and rape the woman near Earthquake Park.
In his application for parole, Osborne wrote that he and his buddy, who was also convicted of rape and assault, spotted the prostitute after leaving the Space Station. "She got in the car with us, and we all went out to Earthquake Park," the application says. "Once there I pulled out a gun and ordered (her) to take off her clothes. After she did, me and my co-defendant took turns having sex with her. After we were done I ordered (her) to get out of the car. She refused to do so and kept refusing."
"... My co-defendant became enraged when he discover that (she) had defecated in his car and began to assault her with a stick. I also assaulted (her) by kicking and punching her."
Osborne later told the board in an oral interview that the woman was afraid because she thought "we were going to get her out of the car and kill her ... I can understand her reason," according to court records.
Osborne's parole was denied.
How much weight a judge will put on the parole board comments is unknown. Fayette said lawyers on both sides will have to argue it for what it's worth.
Cavanaugh said he doesn't think it's worth much because of the circumstances under which it was given.
"There seems to be a policy that if you don't confess, you don't get paroled in these situations," he said.
Fayette said he thinks otherwise. The state appeals court has set forth post-conviction DNA testing criteria, and Judge Gleason has to determine whether Osborne meets them before giving the case back to the higher court for final consideration. Those criteria are partly based on cases Outside where someone had "consistently maintained" their innocence, Fayette said.
Osborne isn't one of those guys, Fayette argues -- that's a main reason the state pushed for the parole board confession to be added to the official record in the first place.
"It would be a fraud on the court, on the crime victim, on the public, to have the judges mistakenly assume that Osborne has always maintained his innocence, because he hasn't," Fayette said.
And, he added, the confession just further proves "this guy is guilty." The victim and his co-defendant identified him, a jury convicted him, "plus now -- he's said he did it!" he said.
But Cavanaugh says there were several problems with the victim's identification -- one of the leading causes for wrongful convictions -- and that the co-defendant could have lied. What's left is the DNA evidence: hair and semen found at the crime scene.
Tests done in 1993 showed that the semen matched about 16 percent of the black population, a group that included Osborne. He asked for more advanced testing, but his attorney at the time refused, strategizing that the inconclusive results were in his favor because they showed the semen could have come from any number of people.
Far more advanced DNA tests are available now.
"Let's just get the condom and hair tested," Cavanaugh said. "That's what needs to be done. If they are so sure they have the right guy, just let us spend our money to get it tested."

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