U.S. Attorney’s Office Says DNA Evidence Exonerates Man Convicted Of 1982 Rape-Murder- Office Calls For Vacating Conviction On Grounds Of Actual Innocence -
WASHINGTON - The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia today joined in a motion to vacate the 1984 manslaughter conviction of Kevin Martin, based on the grounds of his actual innocence in the rape and murder of a woman in Southwest Washington.
Mr. Martin, now 50, pled guilty in March 1984 in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia to one count of manslaughter while armed in the Nov. 1, 1982 rape-murder of Ursula Brown. He also pled guilty at that time to two counts of armed robbery stemming from other incidents that took place a week later. Although Mr. Martin admitted in court to carrying out the latter armed robberies, he entered what is known as an Alford plea to the manslaughter charge. Under such a plea, the defendant does not admit the allegations, but agrees that the government has enough evidence to secure a conviction.
Mr. Martin was sentenced in July 1984 to a prison term of 15 years to life for manslaughter, and two consecutive terms of 10 years to life on the robbery charges, making his total sentence 35 years to life. He was paroled in 2009.
DNA testing has now led to Mr. Martin’s exoneration of the attack on Ms. Brown.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office joined Mr. Martin today in asking the Court to vacate his manslaughter conviction and issue a certificate of actual innocence for that conviction. The Honorable Robert I. Richter granted the motion at a hearing today.
“Thirty years ago, Kevin Martin was unjustly branded a rapist and murderer,” said U.S. Attorney Machen. “Although Mr. Martin had been justly convicted of a series of armed robberies, the system failed us all when he was wrongfully convicted of a brutal rape and murder and, as a result, spent far too long in prison. DNA analysis has now provided evidence that a serial rapist – not Mr. Martin – committed this outrageous attack. Mr. Martin has steadfastly declared his innocence for three decades, and today we joined him in asking the court to clear his name. This exoneration reinforces the importance of the task force we created in early 2010 to pore through old records to identify wrongful convictions. We continue to urge defense lawyers to come forward with any information about wrongful convictions where DNA testing or other evidence could remedy a wrong that was committed in the past. It is never too late to do justice.”
Ms. Brown, 19, was raped and murdered Nov. 1, 1982. According to the government’s evidence, early that morning, Ms. Brown was driving along Route 295 when her car was intentionally bumped from behind by a black Toyota. When she got out and confronted the driver, she was abducted and taken to the 4300 block of Martin Luther King Avenue SW. She was raped during this incident. When she attempted to escape from her attacker, Ms. Brown was shot in the head and stabbed with a serrated knife along her belly, neck, and arms. Her body was discarded by a dumpster near Chesapeake Street SE, next to an elementary school.
The murder was among a series of crimes committed in late October and November of 1982 in which motorists were bumped and then attacked after stopping their vehicles. A total of eight victims – seven women and one man – were robbed or assaulted in separate incidents between Oct. 31 and Nov. 8, 1982. Ms. Brown was the only victim to be murdered.
The Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) arrested three men in 1982 for taking part in one or more of the crimes. They included Mr. Martin, William Davidson, and Kevin Williams.
Mr. Martin spoke to the police after his arrest on Nov. 10, 1982, and admitted to being involved in three bump-and-rob incidents with Davidson, all on Nov. 8, 1982. The robbery charges stemmed from two of those attacks. He repeatedly denied killing Ms. Brown, however.
In the murder case, the government’s evidence against Mr. Martin included hair fragments removed from Ms. Brown’s shoes. The FBI Laboratory issued a report stating that the fragments exhibited the same microscopic characteristics as samples taken from Mr. Martin.
Davidson pled guilty in January 1984 to felony murder, rape, armed robbery and other charges. Consistent with the results of the hair analysis, Davidson claimed at his plea hearing that he acted as a look-out while Mr. Martin raped and killed Ms. Brown. Davidson is now serving a sentence of 65 years to life.
Williams pled guilty to one count of rape while armed for his role in the bump-and-run incidents with Davidson and an unrelated kidnaping charge; neither of the charges related to Ms. Brown’s murder. He was sentenced to 15 years to life for the crimes. He was paroled in 2004.
At Mr. Martin’s plea hearing, in March 1984, Mr. Martin’s lawyer said that Mr. Martin feared conviction of greater charges, citing the hair analysis. Mr. Martin stated, “I understand that I was wrong in committing the robberies, but I never took part in the murder.” Over the years, he continued to insist that he was innocent of the rape-murder.
In November 2001, Mr. Martin’s current defense counsel, Bernard Grimm, filed a motion seeking to withdraw the 1984 guilty plea and vacate the conviction. At the request of the government and the defense, the Metropolitan Police Department searched for the physical evidence without success. A hearing on Mr. Martin’s motion began in July 2006. Before its conclusion, the government and defense negotiated a resolution calling for Mr. Martin’s sentence to be reduced. Pursuant to that agreement, the Court re-sentenced Mr. Martin to a total of 20 to 60 years in prison. The re-sentencing made Mr. Martin immediately eligible for parole. The U.S. Parole Commission, however, did not parole Mr. Martin until September 2009.
Following the 2009 exoneration of another man convicted of a rape and murder, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia began a review of older cases in which the FBI had made a positive hair or fiber association. This led to a re-examination of Mr. Martin’s case, and, in November 2013, the U.S. Attorney’s Office again attempted to locate the evidence.
By this time, MPD had performed a comprehensive inventory of all evidence in its possession as part of a transition to a new property warehouse. The hair sample still could not be located. However, through this search, in January 2014, the U.S. Attorney’s Office located semen-positive swabs taken from Ms. Brown’s body.
The office subsequently contacted Mr. Grimm and the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project to determine if Mr. Martin wanted DNA testing performed. Upon learning that Mr. Martin was interested in DNA testing, the office obtained DNA samples from Mr. Martin as well as Davidson. The DNA testing took place in March and April 2014. The evidence excluded Mr. Martin, but matched the sample provided by Davidson.
DNA testing was not available to the prosecution or defense in 1982. The results now establish that Davidson, not Martin, raped Ms. Brown. The results also undermine Davidson’s claim that he acted as only a look-out at the time of the murder. There is no other credible evidence connecting Mr. Martin to the murder.
This is the first time that a U.S. Attorney’s Office has also resolved all civil claims against the United States simultaneously with a request for a certificate of actual innocence.