BENTON, La. (AP) - A man who had been serving a life sentence for rape since 1981 was released from Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola on Thursday after DNA testing cleared him.
A state district judge in Bossier Parish signed an order Wednesday vacating Eric Prudholm’s convictions and sentence for aggravated rape and armed robbery, KTBS-TV reported . In return, Prudholm pleaded no contest to simple robbery getting credit for time served.
Prudholm, now 58, had been jailed since he was 21 for raping a woman in front of her husband and children at a Bossier City motel.
The only evidence presented against him was an identification by the victim, who admitted being asleep in a dimly lit room with her eyes mostly closed during the attacks. She also initially described Prudholm as a dark-skinned black man, when his complexion is light brown.
When Prudholm was arrested, DNA testing was not available. In 2013, Innocence Project New Orleans helped Prudholm locate the evidence in his case and fought for five years for the right to clear his name by having the evidence DNA tested.
The DNA results from the bed linens and the victim’s nightgown conclusively proved that Prudholm did not rape the victim, the Innocence Project said.
Given the new DNA evidence plus the weakness of the evidence used to convict him, the Bossier Parish district attorney’s office and Prudholm reached an agreement to enter into an Alford plea, allowing him to maintain his innocence in exchange for immediate release.
“Mr. Prudholm spent 37 years and three months in prison for crimes he did not commit,” Innocence Project Executive Director Jee Park said in a news release. “We are thrilled that his wrongful incarceration is finally over and that he will be reunited with his loving family.”
Prudholm’s daughter, Erica, was born months after he was first arrested. Park’s office said she was there when he walked free from Angola about 11:30 a.m. Thursday.
Heather Hood, an attorney for the state Department of Public Safety and Corrections, said it is her understanding that Prudholm is returning to Los Angeles, where he lived before his arrest.
“His life was taken away from him by a shoddy legal process, and he deserves to be fully exonerated, but this compromise allows him to be released immediately so that he can enjoy the remainder of his life with his family in freedom, rather than lose precious years while we fight in court,” said Kia Hayes, an attorney with the Innocence Project.
Because of the plea agreement, Prudholm cannot seek compensation from the state for his wrongful incarceration, so the agency is sponsoring a fundraiser on his behalf.
Information from: KTBS-TV, http://ktbs.com
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