Man Imprisoned for 23 Years Freed After DNA Exonerates Him of Rape Charges

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A man who was wrongfully convicted of rape and served 23 years in prison was released Wednesday after DNA tests indicated someone else committed the crime.

Johnny Briscoe, 52, walked out of a state prison in Charleston, a day after he was declared innocent by a judge. He was in seclusion with his family and authorities said he was expected to speak to the media Thursday.

St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch, who was not the prosecutor when the case was tried, called Briscoe's incarceration a "terrible mistake." He said it was exacerbated by the county crime lab's failure to locate evidence when the prosecutor first requested a review six years ago.

The name of the new suspect was not released, but McCulloch said the man is serving a life term for another rape. McCulloch said a decision has not been made on whether to charge him.

The victim in the case "is very traumatized by this," McCulloch said. "But she takes comfort that the other man is already in prison."

The rape occurred in 1982. McCulloch said a man was burglarizing the victim's apartment and raped her when she awoke. After the attack, the rapist stayed for about an hour and spoke with the victim in a well-lit room, telling her his name was Johnny Briscoe. McCulloch said the rapist and Briscoe knew each other.

The rapist called hours later and authorities traced the call to a pay phone near Briscoe's home. The woman later provided details for a composite drawing that looked like Briscoe, and pointed him out from a mug shot that had been taken for a separate burglary.

Briscoe also weakened his alibi during the trial when he said he was watching Game 7 of the 1982 World Series with a nephew the night of the rape. When asked who won, Briscoe incorrectly named the Milwaukee Brewers instead of the Cardinals.

He was sentenced to 30 years for rape, plus an additional 15 years on related convictions.

In 2000, when the county acquired technology to test DNA evidence that previously could not be tested, McCulloch ordered a review of several old cases, but the crime lab could not find the old evidence. During an inventory of the lab in 2004, the cigarette butt was found in a freezer, but McCulloch's office didn't learn of it until July 6.

A spokeswoman for St. Louis County police, who operate the crime lab, said a statement would be released Thursday.