ATLANTA --- James Edward Parham, the man whose DNA has been linked to the rape of a 74-year-old west Georgia woman, was in the police lineup that the victim inspected after she was attacked.
The only problem: The victim didn't pick Mr. Parham out of the array. Instead, she selected John Jerome White.
After spending more than two decades in prison, Mr. White was released this week after DNA tests on hairs left at the scene cleared him of the brutal attack and implicated Mr. Parham. Mr. White has maintained for three decades that he was innocent.
Advocates say the coincidence provides some of the strongest evidence yet of the fallibility of eyewitness identification. Mr. White is the seventh person in Georgia and the 210th person nationwide to be exonerated by DNA after an eyewitness helped put him behind bars.
"If this doesn't raise questions, then I don't know what does" said Aimee Maxwell, of the Atlanta-based Georgia Innocence Project, which helped free Mr. White. "Here you had the guilty person standing right there, and the victim points to an innocent man."
Mr. Parham went on to be convicted of attacking another woman. He is on the state's sex offender registry for a 1985 rape.
It was only by a fluke that Mr. Parham was even in the Oct. 4, 1979, lineup. Police had their eye on Mr. White, who'd been arrested in a robbery and seemed to resemble the composite sketch the elderly rape victim had helped authorities make of her attacker. On the day of the lineup, Mr. Parham happened to be in the same jail on another charge and was one of those summoned by police to stand in the lineup, Ms. Maxwell said.
The victim's description of her attacker as slim doesn't seem to fit Mr. Parham, who looks stocky in the lineup photo. Ms. Maxwell said the woman wasn't wearing her prescription glasses when she was raped, making the ID even more unreliable.
The Georgia Innocence Project presented the new information about the lineup at a hearing Thursday of a state House study committee considering new training mandates for police officers in the state on how to conduct witness IDs. Mr. White, 48, appeared briefly at the hearing.