ATLANTA – A man enjoyed freedom Tuesday after a DNA test proved he did not commit a 1979 rape.
John Jerome White, 48, left Macon State Prison on Monday evening.
"I'm just thankful that this is behind me," White said at a news conference Tuesday morning with the Georgia Innocence Project, which had worked to free him.
"When I first started out, I wondered why this happened to me," he said, breaking into tears. "I just saw it as something that had to happen because I wasn't living a moral life."
White is the seventh Georgia convict to be cleared by DNA evidence, said Aimee Maxwell, director of the Atlanta-based Georgia Innocence Project. In every case, the men were wrongly convicted on the basis of eyewitness accounts.
"This case does point out the fallibility of eyewitness identification," Maxwell said.
White was convicted in 1980 of breaking into a 74-year-old woman's home and raping and robbing her. The woman has since died.
He was sentenced to life in prison, then was paroled in 1990. White was sent back to prison for 2 1/2 years on a drug violation in 1993. A 1997 robbery charge led to a conviction, a seven-year sentence and a requirement that he return to serving his life sentence for the rape conviction.
At the urging of the Innocence Project, authorities tested DNA from hairs found at the scene of the 1979 rape, using tests that weren't available at the time.
District Attorney Peter Skandalakis of the Coweta Judicial District said authorities found that the DNA matched DNA on file in the Georgia Bureau of Investigation database, leading to an investigation of a new suspect. No arrests have been made yet, the GBI says.
Maxwell said her organization is working with state lawmakers and authorities to require all law enforcement agencies to develop and follow clearly written procedures for doing an eyewitness identification with a victim, Maxwell said. The organization says 82 percent of the 355 Georgia law enforcement agencies surveyed do not have any type of written eyewitness standards.
White was joined at the news conference by his wife, three sisters and his mother, Florence White.
"When they called to tell me that he was getting out, I didn't know whether to shout, cry or holler," said his mother, who lives in Meriwether County. "I'm so glad to have him back home one more time before I leave this world."