Roy L. Watford III, 58, was cleared when DNA evidence proved him innocent, 41 years after his conviction
Watford III was 18 in 1977 when he was cajoled into copping to a child rape he did not commit
The teen took the plea deal on the advice of his grand father, so he would avoid jail
He pled guilty to raping a 12-year-old girl in a Portsmouth, Va., which was proven to be a miscarriage of justice, two years ago
Although his deal was a 10-year suspended sentence that involved no jail time, it disqualified him from many jobs
Watford also was not able to vote, serve jury duty, buy and own a firearm, hold office or drive a commercial vehicle.
DNA evidence tested in 2016 revealed it was not Watford’s sperm found on the victim the court was unanimous in vacating the conviction despite stiff opposition by the Virginia Attorney General’s office
Roy L. Watford III, [photo], of Chesapeake, Virginia, petitioned the court to overturn his 1978 conviction for raping a 12-year-old girl. New DNA tests of biological material recovered from the victim and the crime scene excluded him, and his two brothers, who were all regarded as suspects in the case
A man convicted of raping a 12-year-old girl 41 years ago has been unanimously exonerated by Virginia’s Supreme Court on DNA evidence.
18-year-old Roy L. Watford III, from Chesapeake, Virginia, plead guilty to raping a young girl in 1977 on the advice of his grandfather.
Watford maintained he was innocent, but his grandfather badgered him into taking the deal, because he faced the possibility of a life sentence if convicted at trial.
He was offered a plea deal that would let him avoid jail time, but he said the conviction has kept him from getting decent jobs all his life.
The conviction of Watford, now 58, on Thursday, was vacated by Virginia Supreme Court after new DNA evidence was revealed in 2016 that he was not guilty of raping the 12-year-old girl in 1977 as charged.
Virginia’s top court unanimously exonerated Watford after the DNA evidence was presented to them: “The weight’s off my shoulders,” Watford said,after he was granted reprieve.
“I’m relieved,” Watford said. “My next move is getting another job and getting my income back up.”
Watford’s lawyer, Jon Sheldon, issued a writ of actual innocence for the crime of raping a young girl in 1977 after the DNA evidence leaned toward his innocence. Sheldon told the newspaper: ‘[Watford] is very grateful that the Supreme Court of Virginia today recognized what he has been saying for almost 40 years – that he had nothing to do with the rape.’
Railroaded into accepting a crime he did not commit: 18-year-old Roy L. Watford III, took the plea deal on the advice of his grand father, so he would avoid jail in 1977. Problem was, he was innocent of the crime
At an evidentiary hearing, the victim testified she set out on her bike in Portsmouth on Sept. 14, 1977, to find Watford, who she knew from the neighborhood.
She said she knocked on the door of an abandoned home and when it opened, she saw one of Watford’s two brothers inside. Then someone threw a blanket over her head.The blanket would remain over her head as three men raped and sodomized her on a bare mattress inside the home, she testified.
The woman said she did not see Roy Watford that day and could not say whether she heard his voice during the assault.
Detectives collected a vaginal swab from the victim that contained sperm, and pieces of the mattress and her jeans that appeared to contain biological material.
The Watford brothers were living with their grandparents, Roy L. Watford Sr. and Hattie Watford, in the Brighton area of Portsmouth in 1977.
They said the assault was believed to have occurred in a vacant house in the Prentiss Park area of Portsmouth, Virginia not far from where the Watfords lived.
Watford said he and the girl were friends but never kissed, much less had sex, and that he had not seen her for several months when he was accused.
All three Watford brothers were eventually charged in the assault. One of the brothers was found “not innocent” in juvenile court, while the charges were dropped against the other brother.
After his conviction, Roy Watford returned to his life., but without much prospects at making a decent living. The tide turned in 2005, when Sen. Mark R. Warner, then governor of Virginia, ordered fresh DNA tests in thousands of criminal cases in the state, from 1973 to 1988, including Watford’s,
The directive was occasioned after a trove of biological samples was discovered in the case files of a deceased former analyst for the state’s Department of Forensic Science.
The tests did not find the presence of Watford’s DNA or that of his brothers in the samples collected by detectives. No positive matches were found.
With the new evidence in hand, Watford filed his petition for a writ of actual innocence in August 2016.
A life ruined: Roy Watford III says the rape conviction has dogged him for the past 40 years, limiting his ambitions. He’s gone from job to job because it made steady work hard to find. He has had trouble earning more than minimum wage
The DNA testing in 2016 revealed it was not Watford’s sperm located on the victim or in her jeans. It also concluded the sperm wasn’t either of Watford’s younger brothers, who were also suspects in the case.
The victim testified during the hearing that she entered a vacant house where she saw one of Watford’s brothers and other men inside.
A blanket was then put over here head and she was unable to see her attacker. She was not able to recall if she saw or heard Watford during the assault.
The writ of actual innocence was opposed by the Virginia Attorney General’s office, which did note that the case was challenging.
The newspaper reported that Watford’s case appears to be the first exoneration granted that was opposed by the state.
For Watford’s case, he had to prove that no reasonable jury or judge would be able to convict him without a doubt because of the new evidence available.
After Watford plead guilty in 1977, he served a 10-year suspended sentence that involved no jail time and allowed him to finish high school.
But the conviction prevented Watford from getting a number of jobs he applied for because of his sentence. – Watford is now able to vote, serve jury duty, buy and own a firearm, hold office and drive a commercial vehicle.