Freed from prison after 35 years following DNA testing, James Bain to receive award at Philadelphia Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration

It took 35 long years for justice to prevail, but James Bain’s release from a Florida prison in December for a crime he didn’t commit will be celebrated this weekend at several events here in Philadelphia.

Mr.  Bain, who was freed on Dec. 17, will receive the 2010 Drum Major Award for Criminal Justice from the Philadelphia Martin Luther King Jr. Association for Non-Violence in ceremonies at 12:30 p.m. EDT on Monday, Jan. 18.  The award presentation will be held at the Sheraton Hotel, 17th and Race streets, Philadelphia. Mr. Bain will also participate in a National Bell Ringing ceremony at The Liberty Bell at noon before the luncheon.

He will also be the featured guest on MyPhillyLawyer’s Court Radio show broadcast this Sunday morning, Jan. 17, at 7 a.m. EDT on WRNB-FM 107.9 with attorney Dean I. Weitzman.  Mr. Bain will talk about his case, experiences and legal battles since his arrest back in 1974.

James Bain after being released Dec. 17, 2009.

James Bain talks to the media outside a Florida courthouse after being released from prison Dec. 17, 2009/ Image credit: The Innocence Project of Florida

Mr. Bain, whose visit is being sponsored by MyPhillyLawyer, was released from prison in Florida last month after DNA testing conducted on behalf of non-profit group, The Innocence Project of Florida, revealed what Bain insisted since his arrest back in 1974 – that the wrong man had been convicted and incarcerated in connection with the kidnapping and rape of a nine-year-old boy (See the blog entry on the case from Dec. 18, 2009).  Mr. Bain is the 248th person who has been exonerated of crimes due to DNA testing in our nation, according to The Innocence Project.

One of Mr. Bain’s attorneys with The Innocence Project of Florida, Melissa Montle, said that  it took so long for his eventual innocence to be determined because for years his appeals were denied on procedural grounds.  The first problem was that he only had two years after his guilty verdict to file an appeal based on DNA testing — but such testing didn’t even exist at that time, she said.  Later, another court rejected his request after it interpreted that two-year window as being after the development of such DNA testing,  Montle said, which was difficult to determine.

Mr. Bain’s case was also tainted, she said, by a poorly conducted police identification procedure set up for the young and traumatized victim at that time.  The police allegedly asked the boy to describe his attacker and when he did, the boy’s uncle, who was present for the procedure, said “that sounds like Jimmy Bain,” Montle said. “The procedure that the police used was very suggestive. The photo line-up wasn’t put together well.  The police  didn’t ask the victim to select the photo of the man who had raped him,” Montle said. “They told [the victim] to pick out the photo of Jimmy Bain.”

“Studies have shown that once a victim decides who their attacker is, that’s who it becomes for them,” Montle said.  “It was an honest mistake and no one is blaming this poor kid who went through this horrible experience.”

Also leading to the erroneous conviction, she said, was evidence presented by an FBI crime lab scientist who testified in court against Mr. Bain.  The FBI expert testified that a sample of semen from the attacker which was found on the boy’s underwear was from a man with Type B blood. Mr. Bain’s blood is Type AB, but the FBI expert explained that discrepancy away by saying it could “be a weak A and the B part just jumped out,” Montle said.  The FBI expert “fudged it a bit,” she said. But for the jury, it was enough. “You have to think that someone from the FBI testifying had great weight with the jury,” she said.

Mr. Bain is once again a free man after the justice system failed him 35 years ago.  Now he will work to put his life back together after more than three decades in prison for a crime that was committed by someone else.

We look forward to hearing his words, to hearing his story, straight from the man who lived through such a long and difficult nightmare.

Is he bitter? Is he happy to be free? Did he ever give up on his dream of being released from prison? Did he ever give up hope? And through it all, what kept him alive each day and able to cope with the inequities he endured?

Be sure to listen in this Sunday morning at 7 a.m. EDT at WRNB-FM 107.9 and call in with your questions and comments for Mr. Bain.

We are honored to sponsor his visit and we thank him for sharing his story with us.