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Posts published in “Day: May 12, 2020”

Wrongful convictions

jones

Canyon County Sheriff Kieran Donahue has brought closure to the brutal murder of a nine-year-old girl in Nampa thirty-eight years ago. On April 5, Donahue announced that recent DNA testing incriminated a former Nampa resident, David Dalrymple, of the abduction, rape and murder of Daralyn Johnson on February 4, 1982. Dalrymple is currently imprisoned for abusing other children.

Charles Fain, a Vietnam veteran who lived in the vicinity, was convicted of the crime in November 1983. As Attorney General, I decided to personally argue against Fain’s appeal of the conviction and death sentence, mainly because of the heinous nature of the crime against a child victim. I also felt that Fain’s actions played into a popular narrative of the day that Vietnam veterans were depraved baby killers and that he had brought disgrace upon those who had served in Vietnam

Fain appealed to the Idaho Supreme Court twice and I argued against him both times. Hairs found at the scene of the crime, which the FBI examined and proclaimed to be Fain’s, were the strongest evidence against him. The hairs did not contain enough DNA to effectively analyze at that time. Fain spent 18 years on Idaho’s death row, largely because of the FBI’s findings and testimony about the hairs.

Fain was able to have the hair samples reanalyzed in 2001 when DNA technology had greatly improved. It was determined that the DNA in the samples did not match his. Al Lance, who was then AG, made the correct decision to seek Fain’s exoneration of the crime and he was released from prison on August 24, 2001.

Fain’s exoneration raised the troubling questions of who had committed the crime and whether that person was still at large in the community. Some people expressed lingering doubt regarding Fain’s innocence. Those questions were answered by Sheriff Kieran on April 5.

In April of 2015, the FBI made the stunning admission that most of its hair-comparison expert witnesses had regularly skewed their testimony in favor of prosecutors in the eighties and nineties. It was disgusting to learn at that late date that the FBI had given questionable testimony in life or death cases. The questionable testimony in Fain’s case resulted in a Vietnam veteran wrongly spending a good portion of his life in prison, based on a faulty conviction.

I met Mr. Fain in the fall of 2004 at the office of the late Fred Hoopes, the attorney who worked doggedly to clear Fain of the crime. He was cordial and did not seem to hold any bitterness about his case. He and Fred had been on the speaking circuit together, telling his story and speaking of the fact that wrongful convictions do occur in this country.

Identification of the person who likely killed Daralyn Johnson provides relief to the community and some closure to the Johnson family. The State should provide relief to another victim of these sad events--Charles Fain. The Legislature approved legislation this year to do just that. Its sponsor, Representative Doug Ricks, intended the legislation to compensate wrongly convicted individuals like Fain, as well as Chris Tapp who was wrongfully convicted of the rape and murder of an Idaho Falls woman.

Unfortunately, the legislation was vetoed by Governor Little. That was a mistake. The bill was carefully drafted to ensure that compensation did not go to those who did not deserve it. When people lose a significant part of their liberty through a malfunction of the legal system, the State has a moral obligation to step up and make it right.