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.”
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.