Charles Dabbs (Westchester County, New York)
Factual background.Early on the morning of August 12, 1982, the victim was walking home when she was assaulted from behind. She was forcibly dragged into an alley between a warehouse and another building. The assailant dropped the victim down a flight of stairs, and she lost consciousness. When she awoke, she saw two other men with the original assailant. One of the attackers held the woman’s legs, one held her arms, and the third raped her. She was able to identify only the face of the man who raped her (allegedly Dabbs). The alleged accomplices were never located.
Charles Dabbs was convicted of first-degree rape by a jury in a Westchester County Court on April 10, 1984. He was ordered to serve 12 1/2 to 20 years in prison.
Prosecutor’s evidence at trial. The prosecution based its case on several points:
• The victim was able to identify Dabbs because they are distant cousins.
• The victim testified that the assailant wore a distinctive cap and had a
distinctive laugh, which she stated were both similar to Dabbs’.
• ABO typing of a semen stain on the victim’s pants showed the presence
of the H and the B antigens; Dabbs is an O secretor whose body fluids
contain the H antigen. This blood typing showed that Dabbs could not
be excluded as a source of the semen.
Postconviction challenges. Dabbs appealed his conviction, but it was upheld by the appellate court in June 1988 (529 N.Y.S.2d 557). On November 21, 1990, the Westchester County Supreme Court granted Dabbs’ request for DNA testing (570 N.Y.S.2d 765). The court ruled that any preserved evidence was to be released by the county laboratory for testing by Lifecodes, Inc.
DNA results. Lifecodes, Inc., reported that DNA tests of a gauze pad and a cutting from the victim’s jeans yielded inconclusive results. RFLP testing was conducted, however, on a cutting from the victim’s underwear. The DNA from the semen on the panties did not match the DNA from a blood sample submitted by Dabbs.
Conclusion. On the basis of the DNA results, Dabbs’ attorney filed a motion to have the conviction vacated. The prosecution elected not to oppose Dabbs’ motion, and on July 31, 1991, the Westchester County Supreme Court ruled that the DNA analysis was sufficient to indicate that the defendant was not the perpetrator. The prosecution moved to dismiss the indictment on the basis of the DNA results and the reluctance of the victim to testify at a new trial. The dismissal was granted by the court on August 22, 1991. The court’s written opinion was published on November 7, 1991 (587 N.Y.S.2d 90). Dabbs served 7 years of his sentence.
This case profile is excerpted from Convicted by Juries, Exonerated by Science: Case Studies in the Use of DNA Evidence to Establish Innocence After Trial, a 1996 research report by the U.S. Department of Justice.