TN man cleared of rape conviction after 11 years in prison

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A Tennessee man who was falsely imprisoned for a rape he did not commit is part of a growing number of people who have been added to the National Registry of Exonerations.

The Tennessean ( ) reports that Randall Mills spent more than 11 years in prison but was released after DNA evidence in 2008 proved that he couldn’t have raped a 12-year-old neighbor. Marshall County prosecutors finally dropped all charges against Mills on April 4, in light of the DNA evidence and the neighbor’s wavering on her story about the alleged rape.

Mills’ case and the registry highlight a growing number of exonerations across the country.

Mills is one of nearly 1,400 exonerations documented in the registry. In Tennessee, there have been at least 14 exonerations that are listed in the registry. The crimes range from bank fraud to child sex abuse and murder.

Days after Mills’ case was dismissed, a study published in the National Academy of Sciences estimated that 1 in 25 prisoners condemned to death in the U.S. is actually innocent.

One of the study’s authors says that there is growing acknowledgement among law enforcement and the public that in too many cases the system fails.

“It could be that we’re at the beginning of a very rapid sea change, or a bit of a ways into it. But there does seem to be a change in attitude,” said Sam Gross, a professor of law at the University of Michigan, editor of the National Registry of Exonerations and one of the authors of the death row innocence study. “The number of exonerations that we know about has been increasing. We probably have a reasonably good handle on the most recent ones, although we’re probably still missing some.”

The growth of advances in DNA technology has helped exonerate at least 316 people nationwide through genetic testing, including Mills.

Mills was arrested in March 1999 after a girl who lived in the other half of the duplex went missing. When the 12-year-old was found outside her apartment later, the girl told police that she had been to Mills apartment, where he offered her marijuana, sexually assaulted her and paid her $20.

A retesting of the evidence by an outside laboratory found that the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation’s DNA analysis was flawed and that the DNA on the underwear didn’t match Mills. Lawyers say the alleged rape victim then began to change her story.

Mills said he’s lost more than just nearly 12 years of his life in prison. No one will hire him after he’s been exonerated, he said, because employers are afraid. He also lost his son, who committed suicide a year after Mills went to prison.