A man who spent more than two decades behind bars was freed Friday after DNA evidence cleared him in the rape of a 14-year-old Fort Worth girl.
David Lee Wiggins was convicted and sentenced to life in prison in 1989, although neither of the two fingerprints found at the scene matched his. The girl, whose face was covered during most of the attack, picked Wiggins out of a photo lineup and then a live lineup, saying he looked familiar.
But DNA testing earlier this month excluded Wiggins as the person who committed the crime. Tarrant County prosecutors said DNA evidence demonstrated his innocence.
State District Judge Louis Sturns in Fort Worth freed Wiggins on a personal bond after approving a motion to overturn his conviction. Before the crime is officially cleared from his record, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals must accept the judge's recommendation or the governor must grant a pardon. Either step is considered a formality after the judge's ruling.
"I hold no bitterness," Wiggins said in court after the judge's ruling. "I'm thankful to Jesus Christ. He said he could move mountains, and surely this was a mountain. ... And to the victim: I'm not mad at you. I don't hold you responsible."
The packed courtroom then erupted into applause and people rose to their feet. Wiggins later hugged his relatives and some other men who have been freed from prison after DNA evidence exonerated them in recent years. About a dozen of them attended the court hearing to support Wiggins.Grits offers hearty and heart-felt congratulations to Wiggins and his attorneys. See a related editorial from the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and coverage from the Texas Monthly Daily Post blog.
"We draw strength from each other," said Charles Chatman, who was freed in 2008 after serving nearly 27 years for a rape he did not commit. "We're the only people who know what we are going through."