DNA tests prove Cleveland man innocent; he’ll go free

Towler served almost 29 years in prison for child rape and kidnapping he did not commit

A Cleveland man who has served nearly 29 years in prison for rape and kidnapping is expected to be freed Wednesday after DNA tests proved he was innocent of the crimes.

Ray Towler has just one last court appearance in Cuyahoga County Wednesday before he can walk from the Grafton Correctional Institution as a free man.

“This is the greatest day of my life. I prayed and hoped for all these years, and finally we have the truth. I’m only feeling pure joy no hate or anger toward anyone,” Towler said. “I feel very sorry that the victim went through this, and I wish her nothing but the best. I certainly have no anger toward her.”

The Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office received the test results today.

“The prosecutor’s office and the defense are asking the court to immediately vacate Towler’s conviction and release him from prison,” Prosecutor Bill Mason said in a written statement. “The prosecutor’s office is also contacting the testing facility to arrange for additional testing of crime scene evidence to determine the identity of this rapist.”

Nearly 18 months ago, the 52-year-old Towler believed his release was imminent after test results on the 12-year-old rape victim’s underwear produced genetic material that didn’t match his.

But prosecutors called the results inconclusive and agreed to follow-up testing. The follow-up testing proved he didn’t do the crime.

“DNA has proved his innocence, and prosecutors have agreed that he is innocent,” Mark Godsey said today. He is director of the Ohio Innocence Project at the University of Cincinnati.

Towler has been serving a sentence of 12 years to life for rape, felonious assault and kidnapping for the May 24, 1981, abduction. The victims in the case, a 12-year-old girl and 13-year-old boy, said a man lured them into the woods at the Rocky River Reservation in Cuyahoga County.

Towler is one of about a dozen prisoners who are still grinding through Ohio’s post-conviction DNA testing program after being featured more than two years ago in the Dispatchseries “Test of Convictions.” The series exposed flaws in the DNA testing system, reviewed more than 300 cases with the Ohio Innocence Project and then highlighted 30 prisoners as prime candidates for DNA testing.

Results have been mixed for about 20 inmates who have either completed or hit dead ends in the testing process. Tests exonerated two men and confirmed the guilt of four others. Five could not be tested because their evidence was lost or destroyed. Five were denied testing. Some were tested, but the results were inconclusive.

The others continue to wait for test results or for judges to rule on various appeals.

Towler said in March that the most recent round of DNA testing was his last chance for freedom. “I’ve been in limbo for a while now,” Towler said two months ago. “I try not to think about what could happen. Nothing is worse than false hope.”

Nationally, more than 250 inmates have been exonerated nationally for wrongful convictions. Only a handful of them served more time behind bars than Towler.

MIKE WAGNER

 

 

 

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