Man linked by DNA to 1997 rape freed after old photograph ID’s him as victim’s ex


A Michigan man convicted of sexual assault 20 years after the crime has been released from prison after the victim was shown an old photograph and recognized him as her high school boyfriend, reports the Detroit Free Press. James Clay’s release from the Macomb Correctional Facility Tuesday comes after a Free Press investigation.

Wayne County prosecutors agree that James Clay should be free on bond while awaiting a new court hearing. The Michigan appeals court ordered his release Monday.

In November 2017, Clay was convicted of raping a teenager in a Detroit alley back in 1997 and sentenced to at least 25 years in prison. He was charged after his DNA was compared to an untested rape kit that had languished in storage and discovered in 2009 along with 11,000 other kits, the paper reports.

Clay proclaimed his innocence. He and the victim had an intimate relationship when he was 16 and she was 15, around the same time she said she was assaulted by a man with a gun. Both Clay and the victim now say their memories had faded and the other’s appearance had changed over the two decades between the rape and Clay’s trial, the paper reports. Now 37, the victim says she didn’t recognize Clay at trial as her old boyfriend, the paper reports.

Clay denied having sex with the woman in a videotaped interrogation with police because he was shown a 2015 picture and didn’t recognize her, but he later identified her as his former girlfriend during a court hearing, the paper reports. However, Clay didn’t testify and the jury that convicted him only saw the video of his denials, the paper reports. A DNA expert testified Clay’s DNA was matched to the rape kit evidence, but the expert also said another unidentified DNA profile was present.

According to the Detroit Free Press, when a private investigator in February showed the victim a picture of Clay taken while he was younger, the woman recognized him as her former boyfriend and wrote a letter indicating she didn’t believe Clay was her rapist. The Detroit Free Press questioned prosecutors about the development in the case, and prosecutors launched a review, ultimately leading to his release Tuesday.

“To be free from this nightmare is amazing,” Clay told the paper. “It’s the best feeling to be able to go home to my children and my mother. I couldn’t ask for more.”

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