Will the truth set him free? 
DNA clears Hanover man; now he plans to seek pardon 


Dec 08, 2001

Marvin Lamont Anderson
Marvin Lamont Anderson, apparently exonerated of a 1982 rape through DNA testing, said he put his faith in God, not in the legal system.

"I believe in the law 100 percent. But believing in the law and believing in the people who enforce the law, that's totally different," he said yesterday from his Hanover County home.

"Not all men are honest and truthful," he said. "God made it right."

Anderson, 37, is the first beneficiary of a new Virginia law allowing qualified inmates access to scientific analysis of previously untested evidence if it could have a bearing on their guilt or innocence. DNA results returned Thursday excluded Anderson as the source of biological evidence tested in the case.

Anderson spent 15 years in prison after being convicted of rape based on the victim's eyewitness testimony. He received a 210-year prison sentence and was paroled in 1997. For the past four years, he has been a registered sex offender.

"That's a harsh label to put on anyone. To put it on someone when you know they didn't commit the crime . . . you can't get no worse than that," Anderson said.

Virginia's new law allows an inmate cleared by DNA to ask the state Supreme Court to vacate the conviction, but not until June 1. Rather than waiting, Anderson's lawyers plan to seek a pardon from Gov. Jim Gilmore.

"The governor looks forward to reviewing any clemency petitions put before him," Gilmore spokeswoman Lila White said yesterday. The governor leaves office in January.

Meanwhile, Hanover Commonwealth's Attorney Kirby H. Porter said he hopes to conclude a review of the case within 90 days. The DNA testing turned up two possible matches with other people in the state's DNA database of criminal offenders. Porter, who was not the prosecutor at the time, declined to say whether any of the DNA matched that of a man who confessed to the crime in 1988. A judge rejected that man's confession.

Peter J. Neufeld, one of Anderson's lawyers and a co-founder of the Innocence Project at Cardozo Law School in New York with attorney Barry Scheck, has said the case illustrates how racism can play a significant role in convicting an innocent person.

Anderson is the 99th person to be cleared by post-conviction DNA testing in the United States, said Neufeld. Eighteen states allow DNA testing after a person has been convicted.

Anderson, who is black, said yesterday that authorities zeroed in on him because he was living with a white woman at the time. "Back then, race did play a part in it. They knew from day one I didn't do this," he said.

Anderson was 19 in March 1983 when he was convicted of the three-hour assault on a 27-year-old white woman. The victim testified she was walking from the Ashland-Hanover Shopping Center to her home in the Town Square Apartments when she was abducted by a man on a bicycle and attacked in a wooded area.

Anderson said he doesn't blame the victim for his years behind bars or for the stigma attached to him.

"I have no animosity toward her. Here's a woman that was attacked, beaten and raped," he said. "She was confused about a lot of things."

The victim picked Anderson from a photo spread and in a police lineup. The photo was obtained from his employer and was different from the other photos in the spread, one of Anderson's lawyers has said. Also, none of the men used in the photo spread was in the police lineup.

Anderson said he professed his innocence from the start. Although freed from prison four years ago, he could not escape being viewed as a convicted sex offender in other people's eyes.

He recalled one of his lawyers discussing the risk that the DNA tests might be inconclusive.

"You're out on parole. Do you still want to go through with this?" Anderson recalled his lawyer asking.

Anderson said yes. "I was still labeled."

As a parolee, Anderson said he has had to submit to drug testing; regularly report to a parole officer; send thumbprints to law-enforcement authorities every 90 days; present pay stubs proving he is employed; and get permission to travel out of state. Also barred from possessing a gun, he hopes soon to hunt with his father and, in time, pass the family tradition along to his own son.

"With this [test result], I have my freedom," he said.

Anderson, a truck driver, said he didn't learn the news until he arrived home Thursday night from a trip to Chesapeake and got a message from one of his lawyers.

He said he spent the next few hours talking with his parents, grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles. "We had 12 people on the line at one time," he said. Many of them live within sight of his home, which is near a fire station where he said he served as a volunteer before his arrest.

Finally, he went to bed. His 18-month-old son, Jaquan, batted at Anderson's nose and ears as the two lay in bed. "I slept like a baby," he said.

Yesterday morning, Anderson said he awoke with a different sense of freedom. "I know now that society knows I am an innocent man."

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