A Louisiana man wrongfully convicted of rape in 1997 was released from jail Wednesday after DNA evidence proved he was not the assailant.
Nathan Brown, 40, was convicted after the victim identified him as her attacker in August of 1997. He was sentenced to 25 years.
His lawyers, working with Innocence Project, finally won the right to test the victim’s dress for DNA evidence after he served 16 years in prison. A private forensic lab ran the DNA through a federal database and matched it to another man who lived in Brown’s Metairie neighborhood.
After his sentence was vacated, Brown held his 1-year-old grandson, Kenard Southern, for the first time.
"It's really a relief – mentally, physically – to be free from serving time for a crime that you did not commit," Brown told the Times-Picayune. "It was hard. It wasn't no easy task being in prison for 17 years for something you had no knowledge of."
Emily Maw of the Innocence Project New Orleans told MSNBC that Brown’s original attorney wasn’t prepared to defend him.
“Mr. Brown’s mother paid for an attorney who it appears did almost nothing to prepare for the trial,” Maw said. “Unfortunately, we have seen that happen far too many times here in Louisiana. Of the 41 people who have been exonerated in Louisiana, more than two-thirds had less than effective defense lawyers.”
“To say there is a waiting list would be an understatement,” staff attorney Kristin Wenstrom told WWL-TV.
The Innocence Project has helped free or exonerate 19 people in Louisiana, the majority of which were tried in Jefferson and Orleans parishes.
“I think it shows that we over-incarcerate,” said Wenstrom.
“Improving the police practices so we get it right from the very beginning, so that we're arresting the right person and we aren't rushing to arrest someone,” she added.