A man who spent 27 years wrongfully imprisoned for the rape and murder of a college coed was framed by Washington, D.C. police who acted improperly in the case against the man, a jury found in a verdict that could cost the city millions.
A federal jury Wednesday sided with Donald Eugene Gates, 64, in a civil lawsuit, making the District liable for damages for the time he spent behind bars, the Associated Press reported.
The Washington Post reported that the jury found two metro homicide detectives concocted all or part of a confession they claimed Gates made to a police informant.
The investigators also withheld other evidence from Gates before he was convicted for the 1981 rape and murder of Georgetown University student Catherine Schilling, 21, The Washington Post wrote.
Gates said Wednesday was “one of the happiest days of my life,” the AP wrote.
When he was 30, Gates was arrested for in the rape and murder of Schilling, who was found naked and shot five times in the head in a D.C. park.
He had failed to appear in court on an unrelated case and as part of a processing procedure, gave up a hair sample, which authorities at the time claimed were “microscopically indistinguishable” from hairs found on the victim’s body, according to the Innocence Project.
A police informant, identified by the Innocence Project as Gerald Mack Smith, claimed he and Gates were drinking in the park when Gates said he wanted to rob Schilling and killed her and when she resisted. Smith would go on to make $1,300 for his help on the case.
Police never revealed to the defense that Smith had two prior felony convictions. They also did not divulge that days before he made the false and condemning statement against Gates, Smith was indicted for a third felony. That indictment was dismissed after his assistance in the Schilling investigation.
Gates in 1988 requested DNA testing on the hairs. Initial results were inconclusive, but a 1997 internal review of the FBI lab found the lab report of the special agent tasked with examining the hair was not supported by his notes.
Ten years later, Gates sought DNA testing again and when the request was granted two years later, tests conducted found the semen sample found on Schilling did not match Gates and he was eliminated as the killer and rapist.
Gates was freed in 2009, when he received $75 and a bus ticket to Ohio, the Innocence Project wrote. He was granted a certificate of actual innocence in 2010.
Schilling’s rapist and killer were eventually identified through the DNA profile of the semen to have worked at her office building. It was determined that man followed Schilling home when she left work, but by the time the real suspect was identified, he was deceased, the Innocence Project wrote.
Jurors face no limit on how much money they can award Gates in compensatory damages.