Archive for Sunday, March 15, 2009

DNA results fail to exonerate rapist convicted in 1978 assaults

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.

March 15, 2009

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Sexual Assaults in Lawrence: Not an uncommon crime

In the past five years, more than 450 adult sexual assaults have been reported in Lawrence. There's a rape in Lawrence every four days. Each case represents an instance where someone’s life has been irrevocably changed. LJWorld.com, the Lawrence Journal-World and 6News are taking a deeper look at what those numbers really mean.

Your call will end in 30 seconds …

The generic, monotone voice told convicted rapist Charles Hunter he was running out of time in a recent phone call from Larned State Hospital to the Journal-World.

29, 28, 27 …

Hunter had called after Douglas County District Attorney Charles Branson announced that DNA testing results didn’t exonerate Hunter as the rapist.

… 18, 17, 16 …

We’ll never know whether Hunter saw the symbolism in the number of seconds he had left. One second for each of the 30 years he’s spent in prison for a series of rapes committed in 17 days in Lawrence in December 1978.

… 10, 9, 8 …

One second for every year the assaulted women had spent remembering the night Charles Hunter broke into their home and held a knife to their throat.

… 3, 2, 1. Click.

And while Hunter still has plenty of time in prison to maintain his innocence, after the DNA results, few will be listening.

Hunter, 46, has written dozens of letters to the Journal-World over the years maintaining his innocence. In the letters, Hunter claims that another inmate, “Marvin,” committed the crimes.

In his recent call with the Journal-World, Hunter neither admitted nor denied his guilt in the crimes, but said that evidence of his mental illness was not properly presented at his trial.

Hunter said that he should have been found “not guilty due to temporary insanity.”

Innocence Project

The New York-based Innocence Project, which assists inmates convicted of crimes in obtaining DNA testing that could prove their innocence, took Hunter’s case and spent thousands of dollars paying for the testing.

The evidence was unable to positively identify Hunter as the rapist, but Eric Ferrero, communications director at the Innocence Project, said the results “confirms the prosecution’s theory at the trial.” Ferrero said Hunter’s case with the Innocence Project is now closed.

That might seem like a loss for the Innocence Project and the cause of wrongful convictions, but Ferrero said his organization’s goal is not based on which person the DNA evidence incriminates or exonerates.

“DNA evidence can prove innocence or guilt,” said Ferrero, whose agency has documented 233 cases in the United State where DNA evidence has led to exoneration. “Our cause is to get to the truth in these cases.”

Tiffany Murphy, legal director for the Kansas City, Mo.-based Midwest Innocence Project, which works on wrongful convictions in several states, including Kansas, said it is always a good thing when the evidence is tested.

Even if it does not lead to an exoneration, it further validates the conviction, she said.

“It supports what we do,” Murphy said. “We’re not trying to get guilty people free.”

Data does not exist for the number of people nationally who seek DNA testing that fails to back up claims of innocence, but Rob Warden, who runs the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University in Chicago, says the potential for “scamming the system” exists and they have to be careful when deciding which case to take.

“It’s not common,” Warden said of guilty persons who fight for DNA tests. Warden said that his office has seen three such cases in the 10 years the center has been open.

Will he ever get out?

As detailed in the Journal-World’s three-part series this month on sexual assaults, assaults by strangers are the exception in sex crime cases. But the Charles Hunter case is the definition of the sex crime people fear most. He is the knife-wielding rapist who breaks into your home; the criminal whom society never wants to see again on the streets.

There does, however, remain a possibility that Hunter could eventually be paroled from prison. In 1979, Hunter received varying sentences for four convictions of rape, two for attempted rape and seven for burglary, totaling 29 to 110 years in prison.

According to the Kansas Department of Corrections, Hunter has been denied parole five times, most recently in 2006, and he is up again for parole in December. However, as a result of a conviction for assaulting a correctional officer in 2007, Hunter will have to serve an additional 130 months — nearly 11 years — in prison before he can ever be paroled.

Hunter is up for conditional parole in 2034, when he will be 71. His maximum release date is 2088.

— Correspondent Shaun Hittle can be reached at hittle@ku.edu.

Comments

RoeDapple 6 years, 5 months ago

"However, as a result of a conviction for assaulting a correctional officer in 2007, Hunter will have to serve an additional 130 months — nearly 11 years — in prison before he can ever be paroled."

"… 3, 2, 1. Click."

somebodynew 6 years, 5 months ago

And hopefully he will do something else stupid during those 11 years and have to spend more time there.

Paula Kissinger 6 years, 5 months ago

PitBullGrandma (Anonymous) says…

I am sick of the LJWorld running these “stories”. This is not news. It is a sob-story of a sociopath who wants out of where he belongs. For the JW to publish this piece clues me to believe that they feel his was given a bum deal and an attempt to discredit the law enforcement investigation of the crimes and the judicial correctness of the outcome. Shame, again, on the JW as this is not the first time this has happened. It would be nice if it were the last..

This creature is where he belongs…he is guity…case closed.

weluvbowling 6 years, 5 months ago

"Hunter said that he should have been found “not guilty due to temporary insanity.”

This tells me he did it and knows what he did so what is so "temporary" about that insanity?

EarthaKitt 6 years, 5 months ago

PitBullGrandma - exactly what in your world constitutes a worthy story? Newspapers do far more than simply report incidents and events in a 24-hour cycle. They also include what's know as a "feature." This excellent feature, which I'm pretty sure is the work of a KU journalism student, is not only an update about a 30-year-old crime, but also glimpse into how DNA is now being used to confirm guilt or exonerate the innocent.

I think you should reread this story and listen more closely. No one is saying Charles Hunter is innocent or that anyone is buying his ongoing claims of wrongful conviction. Hunter's story was simply a fine vehicle for an informative story about the justice system and the science of DNA. The double bonus is that we also get an update letting us know the status of a guy who no doubt should remain in jail forever.

Nice job, Shaun Hittle, and way to go on getting your story in the LJW!

Kat Christian 6 years, 5 months ago

This is your classic criminal trying to manipulate the system so he can get out and offend again. Keep him in there. He sounds like a nut case anyway.

womanwarrior 6 years, 5 months ago

Man, try reading the whole story, or find some place to improve your reading skills. The LJW is involved, because the guy sent them letters all the time claiming to be innocent. The group who did the DNA testing has cleared many innocent people, but they have also helped to uphold past convictions. The article assures us that the conviction was legit, and that the guy may never get out of prison, or when he does, he'll be too old and weak to rape again. It's also a part of the series they have been running about sexual assaults. Come on people, try to keep up, please.

oneflewover 6 years, 5 months ago

Guys, lay off pittbullgrandma. I don't think she's too bright, the name says a lot by itself.

greenworld 6 years, 5 months ago

God the last time I saw eyes like that I was watching a show on tv about Charlie Manson

Ron Holzwarth 6 years, 5 months ago

It is my opinion that any person who falsely attempts to be found "innocent" via the use of DNA evidence, thereby wasting the time of everyone involved, should have their sentence increased.

As the law now stands, it is not a crime for an inmate to attempt to gain early release this way. So, an inmate faces no additional penalty for attempting such.

RoeDapple 6 years, 5 months ago

Reality_Check (Anonymous) says…

"Mr. Hunter “jumped” me behind Central Jr. High in 8th grade. Forced me to give him money, and scared the crap out of me. A year later, he pulled a knife on another kid."

Did he appear to be "temporarily insane"?

I take it you're okay with his present housing arrangement....

somebodynew 6 years, 5 months ago

If I remember correctly he was tried as an adult. He had enough previous bad acts that they waived him to adult status. This was not his first run-in with the law.

rubberband 6 years, 5 months ago

There was something really wrong with this guy from a very young age. He also pulled a knife on my husband in junior high. He is where he belongs, and hopefully that's where he'll stay.

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