NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Tennessee Supreme Court has ruled that a Memphis man serving a life sentence for two rapes he says he didn’t commit is entitled to DNA testing.
Rudolph Powers, now 51, was 20 when he was arrested in 1980 for the rapes that allegedly occurred near a shopping center where he worked. Powers said he was misidentified by the victims. He was later convicted and sentenced to life and 50 years, to run consecutively.
After exhausting all appeals, Powers sought the help of the Innocence Project, a New York legal center specializing in wrongful convictions, and petitioned for DNA testing under the state law.
According to the Innocence Project, the physical evidence recovered from the victim in one of the cases has been lost or destroyed, but the evidence in the other case has been found.
The local district attorney and state attorney general opposed testing in the case, saying that even if the DNA recovered from the evidence didn’t match Powers, it wouldn’t prove his innocence because the victim had consensual sex with someone before the attack. The trial and intermediate appeals courts agreed.
However, the Tennessee Supreme Court on Thursday rejected the argument and found that since the state relied on the presence of semen as proof of Power’s guilt, results showing that the semen belonged to someone other than Powers would establish “a reasonable probability that the petitioner would not have been convicted” if Powers had access to such evidence at trial.
The high court sent the case back to the trial court so that the DNA testing can be done.
Attorney General spokeswoman Sharon Curtis-Flair told The Associated Press on Friday that her office was reviewing the ruling and didn’t immediately have a comment.
Craig Cooley, a staff attorney with the Innocence Project, is representing Powers, who is being held at the Northwest Correctional Complex in Tiptonville.
He told the AP he plans to talk with his client next week, and is pleased that Powers can finally get tested and move forward.
“I’m ecstatic,” Cooley said. “I always thought we had the law and common sense on our side.”
The Innocence Project is hoping the court’s decision will benefit others trying to prove their innocence.
The organization assisted Clark McMillan of Memphis, who was released from prison in 2002 after serving 22 years. DNA testing showed he did not rape a Memphis teenager.