DOUGLAS, Ga. — For almost two decades, a rape he didn’t commit hung over the head of Kerry Robinson. But no longer. DNA evidence, processed using a tool that wasn’t available when he was convicted, has cleared him, finally allowing him into the arms of his family.
Robinson, now 44, was released from Coffee Correctional Facility on Wednesday, Jan. 8, after a wrongful rape conviction stranded him there for 18 years. He was only 17 when he was accused in 1993.
That year on Feb. 15, three teens broke into a 42-year-old Moultrie woman’s home, raping her at gunpoint.
After reporting it to police, the victim identified two individuals from the pages of a local junior high school yearbook. Tyrone White was one and his friend, the other. She never identified Robinson.
White cleared his friend by accusing Robinson. Case background states that Robinson believes White implicated him because White believed Robinson had tried reporting him to the police on an unrelated charge.
The trial was delayed until 2002. The state presented two pieces of evidence against Robinson: the “incentivized” accusation of White — who received a lesser sentence for it — and the testimony of a Georgia Bureau of Investigation DNA analyst.
According to his Georgia Innocence Project lawyer, Jennifer Whitfield, “In Georgia, a case can only go to a jury — if it’s based on a cooperator’s testimony — if that testimony is corroborated in some way.”
The GBI analyst’s testimony did just that. It took years to prove the analyst’s testimony was inaccurate.
“The defense counsel said the DNA evidence isn’t strong enough to corroborate Tyrone White’s accusation of Kerry,” Whitfield said “And the court disagreed because the DNA expert essentially suggested that the DNA had been inculpatory — that Kerry was likely to be in the DNA mixture from the sexual assault kit.”
But soon after that, independent analysts made their own observations. Dr. Greg Hampikian saw the case as “deeply flawed and likely the subject of subjective bias” — proven later — so he and co-author Itiel Dror published a case study called “Subjectivity and Bias in Forensic Mixture Interpretation.”
They sent Robinson’s case DNA data to 17 DNA analysts. Only one agreed with the GBI’s testimony while 12 saw Robinson’s DNA absent. Four found it inconclusive.
Hampikian did more DNA testing on four staff members from the Georgia Fox News station, compared their DNA to that of the rape kit and found their DNA to match the mixture from the rape kit “with as many markers as Robinson, or more.”
These findings were presented in a habeas corpus hearing in 2012 but the motion was denied.
In 2018, the GBI started performing DNA analysis with a new process, the probabilistic genotyping tool. Hampikian sent Robinson’s case to be analyzed using this new technology, and it confirmed the trial was wrong.
“The results were exclusionary, not inclusionary as it was suggested at trial,” Whitfield said. “Essentially [it] showed that not only was Kerry not in the rape kit, but a random African American on the street was 1,800 times more likely than Kerry to be present in that DNA rape kit.”
This information was presented to Southern Judicial Circuit Court District Attorney Brad Shealy. Shealy wasn’t on the original prosecution but agreed Robinson should be freed, leading to an Extraordinary Motion for New Trial filed by Robinson in September 2019 and his subsequent exoneration.
Rodney Zell, Robinson’s lawyer since 2005, said this should’ve come sooner.
“Modern DNA technology has further confirmed what we’ve known for a long time: Kerry Robinson is an innocent man,” Zell said. “I am so grateful that new technology is finally able to meet the incredibly high thresholds for righting wrongful convictions in Georgia. It’s been a long fight and we wish Kerry’s mother were here to see this day. We are overjoyed to see Kerry coming home after all these years.”
“We’re thrilled for him,” Whitfield said. “This has been hanging over his head since 1993 when he was accused of rape. You’re from Moultrie: It’s a small town and he was 17 years old. To give him a little piece of justice feels good.”
Robinson gets to be with his family finally, but Hampikian said this calls for a larger look into DNA cases from the past.
“Fifteen minutes of flawed DNA forensic testimony took almost 18 years to correct in this case,” Hampikian said. “My hope is that labs and lawyers will take notice, and re-examine these complex DNA mixture cases that can mistakenly imprison the innocent.”