Another Man freed by DNA test after 20 years

TOWSON, Maryland (AP) -- A judge on Thursday ordered the release of a Baltimore man who has spent 20 years in prison for a rape that DNA tests show he didn't commit.

Bernard Webster, now 40, was expected to go free later in the day, leaving behind the limestone walls of Maryland Correctional Institution in Hagerstown.

"There's nothing that anyone can say to justify what happened in this case," Circuit Judge Christian Kahl told Webster. "Justice moves slow at times, and in your case, it moved very, very slow."

Webster was 19 when a 47-year-old teacher identified him as the man who broke into her Towson home and raped her in 1982.

Even before Thursday's ruling, Webster had been set for release in February. He wasn't entitled to compensation from the state for his time in prison, his lawyers said, and he is without a family, job or home.

Public defender Stephen Harris said Webster may be able to live with a foster sister, but she has not seen him for 20 years, Harris said.

"To go in at 19 with a 10th-grade education and then compound that with 20 years in prison -- it's unfathomable. I don't see how you deal with this as a person," Harris said.

Webster was the third person in Maryland and the 115th nationwide to have a conviction overturned by DNA evidence, according to the nonprofit Innocence Project in New York City.

The victim told The (Baltimore) Sun on Wednesday that she was upset by the turn in the case.

"You can't imagine it, you just can't," she said.

Webster became a suspect because police had arrested him in Towson months earlier in the theft of a pocketbook, according to court papers.

At trial, defense attorneys presented two witnesses who said they saw Webster playing basketball that day miles away from the rape scene.

But two workers at the victim's apartment complex said they saw Webster around the building that day, and the victim picked Webster out of a photo lineup.

Webster maintained his innocence, and the public defender's office took another look at his case as part of a project to see if new DNA tests could exonerate any prisoners.

DNA evidence taken from the victim hours after the attack was tested, and results sent to the defender's office last month showed the semen wasn't Webster's. Last week, the prosecutors' office got the same results from its own testing.

The judge overturned Webster's conviction and granted him a new trial, but prosecutors said they would not pursue the case.

"We didn't have this technology 20 years ago," said John Cox, an assistant state's attorney. "Our intention has always been to seek justice, and once this came to our attention, we moved as fast as we could."

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