Originally created 08/16/98

DNA test frees man wrongly convicted of rape



COLUMBIA -- Perry Mitchell, freed after serving 14 years of a 30-year rape sentence, could be the first in South Carolina let go because a DNA test.

Mr. Mitchell, 36, was released Aug. 4 from the Turbeville Correctional Institution after Circuit Judge James Johnson Jr. ordered a new trial in Lexington County.

The test showed that Mr. Mitchell didn't rape a 17-year-old girl in 1982.

Although DNA tests have been used by state prosecutors, attorneys and law enforcement officials can't remember anyone freed because of the genetic fingerprints.

"All I want to do is get my life back in order," Mr. Mitchell said Friday.

Mr. Mitchell was convicted on Jan. 23, 1984, of first-degree criminal sexual conduct.

Mr. Mitchell's public defender, Hervery Young, said he hopes 11th Circuit Solicitor Donnie Myers won't retry the case.

Mr. Mitchell's ordeal began a week after the rape when the victim picked him from a photo lineup.

When Mr. Mitchell was sentenced, the late Circuit Judge George Bell Timmerman said "if it was left up to him, he would castrate me," Mr. Mitchell recalled.

Mr. Mitchell's first appeal went as far as the state Supreme Court, but was unsuccessful.

However, in June 1996, Circuit Judge Sidney Floyd heard granted a hearing on DNA tests. Mr. Mitchell's attorney at the time, James Davis Sr., asked DNA tests be performed on the victim's undergarment to see if semen on the clothing matched with Mr. Mitchell's DNA, or deoxyribonucleic acid.

This past June, test results from Cellmark Diagnostics said the DNA on the victim's garment was not Mr. Mitchell's, according to Judge Johnson's order.

Judge Johnson on July 20 ordered a new trial for Mr. Mitchell.

Dan Stacey, an attorney in the South Carolina Office of Appellate Defense, said he was unaware of any other case where a South Carolina inmate has been freed by DNA tests.

Hugh Munn, a State Law Enforcement Division spokesman, said he also could not think of a similar case.

Mr. Mitchell said he has been staying with a friend in Lexington and eventually wants to open a restaurant in Orlando, Fla., where his family lives.

Mr. Mitchell is not concerned with how he got out, just that he's free.

"I don't hold grudges," Mr. Mitchell said. "She made a mistake. She'll be the one who has to deal with it."