DNA proves man innocent of carjacking

Friday, March 30, 2007
Antonio Beaver told reporters about his struggle to prove his innocence, as St. Louis circuit attorney Jennifer Joyce looked on, at a news conference after being released from prison Thursday. Beaver's 1997 carjacking conviction was erased after DNA evidence exonerated him. (TOM GANNAM ~ Associated Press)

ST. LOUIS -- A 41-year-old St. Louis man was freed Thursday after nearly 11 years in jail when a judge found he was not guilty of the carjacking in which he had been convicted.

Judge Michael David told Antonio Beaver he had been exonerated of the crime, based on DNA analysis not available when the robbery was committed. Tests determined the blood at the crime scene was not Beaver's.

Beaver arrived in court wearing an orange prison jump suit. Just more than an hour later he was wearing a sport coat and slacks, addressing reporters during his first moments of freedom.

"This feels strange," Beaver said. "I'd like to give my thanks to God, because there is a God and he knew I was innocent from the start."

Beaver filed his own motion for a post-conviction DNA test in 2001. He was later assisted by The Innocence Project, a New York-based legal center that seeks to uncover wrongful convictions.

St. Louis Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce filed a joint request seeking Beaver's release. She choked back tears during the news conference and told Beaver her office would help him re-enter society.

"I am personally very distressed to see a case such as this," said Joyce, promising to help Beaver seek compensation from the state under a new Missouri law that pays inmates exonerated of crimes.

Beaver could be paid up to $50 for each day he spent in prison, roughly $193,000 in all.

Beaver said the money couldn't replace all he's lost.

"I just about lost connection with my sons. They're grown now," he said. "I wanted to be a father to them, but I couldn't. That was took from me."

Beaver was convicted of robbery in 1997 and sentenced to 18 years in prison.

During the carjacking, someone threatened a woman with a screwdriver and stole her car following a struggle. The woman stabbed the man with the screwdriver, leaving traces of his blood in the car. The victim later identified Beaver in a lineup, but his lawyers now say that lineup was flawed.

Joyce said DNA testing at the time couldn't provide conclusive results from such small traces of blood.

Modern methods have changed that, and a crime lab report March 20 determined it wasn't Beaver's blood, said Innocence Project attorney Nina Morrison.

She criticized the police lineup, saying only four people, two of them police officers, stood in front of the witness. Only Beaver and the other inmate wore baseball caps, as the suspect had worn, Morrison said.

Joyce disputed Morrison's claims during the news conference but said she couldn't elaborate because authorities had reopened the carjacking investigation.

Joyce said authorities have identified a new suspect in the case. He already is incarcerated for another crime, but she wouldn't provide additional details.

Beaver said he plans to stay with an uncle, Richard White. Beaver's parents died before he went to prison.

White said he's trying to find Beaver a job to get him started with his new life. He said he was glad to see his nephew outside a prison visiting room.

"To see the conditions he was living in, that was just horrible."

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