Archive for Thursday, August 7, 2008

Untested evidence: Convicted rapist maintains innocence, awaits DNA results after three decades

Charles Hunter is shown in a photo from the late 1970s, left, and in a recent prison photo.  Despite being convicted of a series of rapes, attempted rapes and burglaries in downtown Lawrence in December 1978, Hunter maintains his innocence.

Charles Hunter is shown in a photo from the late 1970s, left, and in a recent prison photo. Despite being convicted of a series of rapes, attempted rapes and burglaries in downtown Lawrence in December 1978, Hunter maintains his innocence.

August 7, 2008


Twenty-nine years ago, a Douglas County court convicted 16-year-old Lawrence resident Charles Hunter of a series of rapes, attempted rapes and burglaries.

Hunter, while maintaining his innocence, has remained in the Kansas state prison system for nearly three decades.

And for all of those years, rape kits containing DNA evidence that might prove Hunter's claims of innocence remained stored, and untested, at Lawrence Memorial Hospital.

But not for long.

Under a Kansas law that allows convicts to petition the court to have previously untested DNA examined, Jean Phillips, a lawyer from the Kansas University School of Law Defender Project, filed a motion recently with the district court seeking to have the evidence tested.

The Defender Project, which assists inmates with post-conviction cases, is acting as local counsel in conjunction with the New York-based Innocence Project, a national organization that works to use DNA testing to exonerate wrongly convicted people.

District Attorney Charles Branson said there are three slides with DNA evidence available for testing in Hunter's case. The slides were stored at Lawrence Memorial Hospital until recently, when the evidence was collected by the DA's office in preparation for possible forensic testing.

Branson described the evidence against Hunter as a "pretty solid case," but he will not oppose the move to have the evidence tested.

"There's not really any reason to oppose," Branson said, explaining that the Innocence Project will pay for the tests and no state funds will be used. Branson said this is the first such motion his office has received since he took office in 2005.

Phillips said that the Defender Project first became involved in Hunter's case about a year ago when they were contacted by the Innocence Project. Eric Ferrero, director of communications for the Innocence Project, declined comment on specifics of Hunter's case, and both the Innocence Project and the Defender Project have declined the Journal-World's requests to speak with Hunter.

The evidence will be sent to a DNA testing facility chosen by the Innocence Project. Branson said that if the testing provides results that cast doubt on Hunter's guilt, the court will have a variety of options for dealing with the case - including granting a new trial.

But after 30 years, Branson said, there are no guarantees the samples will provide useful results.

"(The evidence) will be a real challenge to test," said Branson.

A spokesperson for Orchid Cellmark, a company that has tested DNA evidence for the Innocence Project in the past, said there are too many variables regarding DNA testing to accurately predict how long testing of DNA material will take or how much it will cost.

A series of crimes

In December 1978, a string of rapes and home invasions occurred in Lawrence. The crimes followed a pattern: A young black male breaks into a home, holds a knife to the throat of the woman inside, and commits, or attempts to commit, rape.

Between Dec. 5 and Dec. 22, the attacker committed four rapes, attempted two others and invaded several homes.

Lawrence police arrested 16-year-old Charles Hunter, who, according to investigators, confessed to the crimes while detailing the location and specifics of the rapes and home invasions.

Several other pieces of evidence also pointed to Hunter as the attacker.

A finger splint was left behind by the attacker at one of the crime scenes. Hunter had recently been treated and supplied with a finger splint after receiving stitches at Lawrence Memorial Hospital.

At the same crime scene, investigators found a green stone left by the attacker. A ring missing two green stones was later recovered from Hunter's apartment.

Pubic hair discovered by investigators was "comparable" to Hunter's, but modern-day DNA technology that might have conclusively identified or disqualified Hunter was not available in 1979.

In addition, two of the victims positively identified Hunter as the attacker, though several other victims were unable to do so.

Juvenile delinquency

Court records state that Hunter had a history of delinquency in the juvenile court, but none of his previous crimes were as serious as the ones he was charged with: four counts of rape, two counts of attempted rape and eight counts of aggravated burglary.

Hunter was found competent to stand trial after examination by doctors at Bert Nash Mental Health Center, despite physicians' findings that Hunter suffered from a mental illness and experienced delusions.

Hunter's court-appointed attorney, Wesley Norwood, waived Hunter's right to a jury trial, and District Judge James Paddock found Hunter guilty of 13 of the 14 charges.

Hunter received sentences for the crimes ranging from one to five years for the attempted rapes, three to 10 years for the aggravated burglary charges, and five years to life for the rapes.

Although his appeal was rejected, Hunter has continued to file numerous unsuccessful appeals with the district court over the years. In those appeals, Hunter says that an inmate named "Marvin," who Hunter says died in 1983, was the real perpetrator of the crimes. Hunter also says that Gene Simmons, of the rock band Kiss, is an "advocate" for Hunter and his case.

In an appeal filed with the court in 2005, Hunter wrote of his case, "I was plotted against by a Satanic Terroristic official and Opperatives, then I was cast into prison for rapes that the culprit, a one inmate 'Marvin' committed."

According to the Kansas Parole Board, Hunter, now 46 and currently housed at Larned Correctional Mental Health Facility, was first eligible for parole in 1996 and will not be eligible again until December 2009.


igby 9 years, 8 months ago

denak: Our Gov. two years ago signed a bill that requires DNA samples to be destroyed, if the person who is arrested is not convicted of that crime they were arrested for. So other states can't get their DNA matches for crimes that may have been done by them prior.

ebyrdstarr 9 years, 8 months ago

and she was correct in doing so, Igby. That statute provides a necessary safeguard against pretextual arrests being made only to acquire a suspect's DNA in circumvention of the 4th Amendment warrant requirement.

geniusmannumber1 9 years, 8 months ago

""I was plotted against by a Satanic Terroristic official and Opperatives"A true psycho."What? I see crazier things posted on these message boards every day.

jonas 9 years, 8 months ago

geniusmannumber1 (Anonymous) says:"What? I see crazier things posted on these message boards every day."A'men to that. Much crazier, fairly frequently.

sarahsmilehawk 9 years, 8 months ago

Why don't they go back and test the DNA in all old cases? Is it a money thing?It sounds like they got the right guy and his delusions have convinced him he's innocent, or perhaps they interfered with his memory of commiting the crimes. I'm an amateur pop psychologist.My prediction is that these tests will actually confirm his guilt, but I'm curious to see what happens.

jonas 9 years, 8 months ago

invictus: Ah, I see. Well, when making hypotheses, its necessary to test and discard some in order to find the sound one. Waste of a good joke, though. carter: Man, that's exactly what I thought. They almost glow. Maybe not almost.

jafs 9 years, 8 months ago

Why did he confess to the crimes and offer convincing details of them?

igby 9 years, 8 months ago

LMH keeping these DNA test is it's self a risk. Suppose your family member thats works there had access to their storage vault?

Confrontation 9 years, 8 months ago

""I was plotted against by a Satanic Terroristic official and Opperatives"A true psycho.

Confrontation 9 years, 8 months ago

If someone is crazy enough to claim guilt for something they didn't do, then they should be locked up in a mental hospital for the rest of their lives.

maisie 9 years, 8 months ago

I was one of the women raped by Mr. Hunter. He confessed everything to the police, with detail. Now this story is bringing it all back to me, it was a horrifying experience. I think he should have the right to have the dna tested, but I pray he'll never get out of jail. I believed he was going to kill me at the time.

Frank Smith 9 years, 8 months ago

You can imagine how difficult it would be for someone who is psychotic to get a fair trial.It sounds like they got the right guy. Of course it also sounded like they got the right guy in this case...From yesterday's KC Star:Judge tosses sex crime convictions of DNA exonoreeBy JEFF CARLTON Associated Press WriterA judge on Tuesday recommended clearing the record of a wrongly convicted man who spent 25 years in prison for a series of sex crimes he did not commit.In December, Phillips was released from prison on parole. He held up his ankle monitor to a cheering courtroom packed with a dozen family members and at least six fellow exonorees, who collectively served more than 100 years in prison until DNA tests proved their innocence.DNA testing (last year) showed Phillips was innocent of a 1982 sexual assault and burglary. Additional DNA testing earlier this year linked the crimes to Sidney Alvin Goodyear, who died in prison in 1998.Phillips spent his time in prison writing letters to his mother and three children. Two were in court Tuesday, including Spc. Zachary Phillips, who has served two tours in Iraq.Phillips is one of 19 men in Dallas County since 2001 proven innocent by DNA testing, a national high, according to the Innocence Project, a New York-based legal center that represented Phillips and specializes in wrongful convictions.Phillips' case differs from the previous 18, complicated by his pleading guilty to nine similar sex crimes after two juries convicted him in separate trials for sexual assault and burglary. He received 30-year sentences in both cases and said he feared life sentences if he did not plead guilty to the other charges.Dallas County prosecutors now believe Goodyear committed all 11 crimes that sent Phillips to prison.Dallas police were investigating a series of sex crimes in 1982 around the same time police in Kansas City were investigating a similar spree, said Barry Scheck, co-director of the Innocence Project. A man breaking into homes and raping women was also entering health spas, holding up women at gunpoint and forcing them to commit sexual acts.Kansas City police correctly focused their investigation on Goodyear, and sent his photo to Dallas police. At least one victim in the Dallas crimes identified Goodyear. Other Dallas victims identified Phillips, who resembled Goodyear in that both were white men with receding hair lines.At one point, an arrest warrant was issued in Dallas for Goodyear, but it was later dropped. That information was not disclosed to defense attorneys.Other evidence also connects Goodyear to the crimes. The gun, clothing, car and threats used in the Dallas cases are identical to those from crimes committed by Goodyear in other states, Scheck said.Phillips said police, who targeted him as the suspect and could not be persuaded otherwise. "Once they got started, I think they just could not turn off the machine."

jonas 9 years, 8 months ago

invictus (Anonymous) says:"Sounds like a school project; funny when I was in school I just made power point presentations." Were they white power point presentations?

geniusmannumber1 9 years, 8 months ago

jafs--That's one of the most bizarre things about the last 20 years of DNA testing--you see at least a handful of people confess to really serious crimes that they didn't commit, and it's not discovered until years later.I'm not even talking about unfair police interrogation practices -- they sweated me for 48 hours until I broke. There's just a screw loose. Do you remember John Mark Karr (I think that was his name)? The guy who "confessed" to the Jon Benet Ramsey thing? And then the police realized he couldn't have done it -- he was in a different state at the time -- but apparently really believed he had done it?I've seen a variety of explanations, all of which come off sounding like unconvincing pop psychology. So, in answer to your question, I don't know, but it happens.

denak 9 years, 8 months ago

It is my personal opinon that anyone arrested---not convicted--arrested for certain crimes should have to give a DNA sample. People just don't wake up one day and say, "Oh I think I am going to rape someone" or "Oh I think I am going to kill someone." Most of the time there is a progression of smaller crimes before the people gets brave or stupid enough to try something bigger.Burglary, for example, is considered a gateway crime because people start small, then they start getting bolder, may start carrying a gun(which bumps it up to aggravated burglary) and then the chances of a murder happening goes up. Someone comes home during a burglary, the perp panics and kills the homeowner. OR the perp is trying to act a bad a** and kills someone on "accident." So, personally, I think if you are arressted for burglary and a few other crimes, you should have to give a DNA sample, that simple. I know some people object to this on "constitutional" grounds but I don't see it as a constiutional issue. I see it as a very effective crime fighting tool.As for interrogations, I think all interrogations should be taped recorded. A lot of states do this already. It protects both the police from false accussations and the accussed from coercive police tactics.As for this case specifically, I think he did it. DNA is useful in telling us who or who didn't do a crime but it isn't the only evidence that is important. Trace evidence, witness and victim testimony, autopsy results, all of these things tell us how a person died and from what I am to understand, the other evidence in this case is pretty air-tight so I think he is just grasping at straws and the DNA will come back and prove it.Dena

50YearResident 9 years, 8 months ago

Mr. Hunter has absolutely nothing to loose and freedom to gain. So why wouldn't he want the DNA to be tested? If it comes back a "Match" he hasn't lost anything, he was convicted anyway. But, if the samples are too old, contaminated or happen to show anything inconclusive he may get off. If I were in his shoes I would certainly want to "roll the dice" too. He wouldn't be the first one to "get out of jail free"

Steve Jacob 9 years, 8 months ago

I don't see the big deal. Any case that has DNA evidence still for crimes 20+ years ago should have this done.

always4ever 9 years, 8 months ago

maisie - I am sorry for the pain this is causing you. It was bad enough you had to go through that experience at all, and too bad you have to re-live it again. Good luck. I will be praying for you and for all involved.

reason 9 years, 8 months ago

i remember this case --i was a teenager at that time all our moms were afraid of , this i remember having to lock all the windows in the house and mom would check us at night--scary

Ellis 9 years, 7 months ago

50yearresident: you clearly have no idea what you're talking about. Maybe you should understand the process before posting ignorant comments.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.