Federal prosecutors have exonerated a D.C. man who spent more than 20 years in prison for a rape they say he did not commit.
Kirk L. Odom, now 49, was legally cleared of the crime Tuesday based on recent DNA evidence that showed that another man sexually assaulted the woman during a home invasion attack in 1981, prosecutors said.
"Thirty years ago, Kirk Odom suffered a terrible injustice," U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen Jr. said. "Though we can never give him back the years that he lost, we can give Mr. Odom back his unfairly tarnished reputation."
In September 1981, Odom was convicted of two counts of first-degree burglary while armed, rape while armed, sodomy and armed robbery. During the trial, members of the FBI crime lab said a hair found on the victim's nightgown was a microscopic match to Odom. DNA testing was not available at the time of the trial.
He was sentenced to 20 to 60 years behind bars.
In the mid-1990s, the Justice Department found that testing hair samples by site was unreliable and ended the practice.
In 2009, after DNA testing exonerated another D.C. man, Donald Eugene Gates, for a felony murder, retired D.C. public defender Richard Greenlee recalled similar circumstances involving Odom, who he had represented three decades earlier.
As in the Gates case, the government presented faulty FBI hair-match testimony that seemed to have sealed Odom's fate with the jury, according to court filings.
Odom had been released on parole and required to register as a sex offender.
In February 2011, 30 years after the crime, the Public Defender Service for D.C. asked a judge for a test of DNA found at the scene of the crime. Semen was also found on a pillowcase and a robe at the scene of the crime.
D.C. police were able to locate the decades-old evidence, and lab tests proved Odom's innocence, Machen said.
Law enforcement officials also found that the DNA matched to another individual who had previously been convicted of a sex offense. Prosecutors have not identified that person.
Prosecutors said the statute of limitations has run its course to bring the suspect up on the rape charge. At the time of the attack, there was a six-year statute of limitations on serious sex offenses in the District of Columbia.