A 52-year-old Ohio man was freed May 3 after spending close to 30 years in prison after DNA results revealed he did not rape an 11-year-old girl in 1981.
“It finally happened, I’ve been waiting,” Raymond Towler said as he hugged family members in the courtroom, according to the Associated Press.
Towler had been serving a life sentence after he was stopped for a traffic violation in 1981 and a park ranger noticed a resemblance to a police sketch of the rape suspect. Police say the victim and witnesses identified him from a police photo.
The Ohio Innocence Project, an organization that uses DNA evidence to overturn wrongful convictions, told the AP that Towler had been incarcerated longer than anyone else who has had their conviction overturned by DNA evidence. They believe it would have happened much sooner had modern technology been available.
According to The Columbus Dispatch, modern genetic testing proved that semen found on the victim’s clothing did not match Fowler’s DNA.
“That was the test result that we got and it excluded Mr. Towler,” Carrie Wood, an attorney with the project, told the AP. “Because Mr. Towler’s conviction was in ‘81, the technology did not exist to do the kind of DNA testing that we can do now.”
Freedom is not the only surprise Towler has gotten this week. The Cleveland Cavaliers heard about the man’s story and invited him to Tuesday’s Game 5 of their playoff series with the Boston Celtics. Towler will be a part of the pre-game festivities.
Towler, who was a musician before heading to prison, has been offered a job playing organ for a Cleveland-area church according to Mark Godsey of the Ohio Innocence Project.
In a brief court session exonerating Towler, Cuyahoga County, Ohio Common Pleas Court Judge Eileen Gallagher told him that he can sue over his ordeal. According to the AP, Clarence Elkins of Akron, Ohio, won a $1.075 million settlement from the state for his wrongful conviction of a rape charge for which he spent 7 years in jail. Elkins was released in 2005.