NEW ORLEANS — A man convicted of raping a woman in 1981 but cleared last month by DNA tests was freed from a Louisiana prison Friday after nearly 30 years behind bars.
Henry James was released from the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola a day after state District Judge Henry G. Sullivan vacated his conviction. Jefferson Parish prosecutors had joined James’ lawyers from The Innocence Project New Orleans in asking Sullivan to throw out the case and order James’ immediate release.
The Innocence Project says James served the longest prison sentence of any Louisiana inmate cleared by DNA tests.
Paul Killebrew, one of James’ attorneys, said his client is “overjoyed.”
“He’s really excited to be able to see and spend time with his family, and he’s grateful to the district attorney’s office that once the DNA results came in, they acted decisively and correctly,” Killebrew said in a statement.
Jefferson Parish District Attorney Paul Connick didn’t immediately return a call Friday seeking comment.
James, now 50, was sentenced to life in prison without parole after he was convicted in 1982 of raping an acquaintance who lived near him in Westwego.
James’ lawyers say he had interacted with the woman several times and was with her husband a day before the attack. The woman initially told police she didn’t know her attacker, but she later picked James out of a lineup, according to his attorneys.
James, who testified at his trial and presented three witnesses to back up his alibi, always has maintained he was innocent of raping the woman, according to his lawyers.
When The Innocence Project sought to perform DNA tests on the rape kit in the case, the Jefferson Parish crime laboratory initially couldn’t find the evidence. But a lab worker found a slide from James’ case in May 2010 while looking for evidence in a different case, The Innocence Project says.
Last month, a final report on the results of court-ordered DNA tests excluded James as the perpetrator.
James is scheduled to appear at a news conference in New Orleans on Friday afternoon.
Jene O’Keefe Trigg, managing director of The Innocence Project New Orleans, said James’ first request was to eat jumbo shrimp.
“I think it’s definitely on the menu for dinner tonight,” she said.