Feature

Freedom for an innocent man

Two decades passed before a DNA test proved Donald Gates hadn’t committed the crime for which he was convicted.

Donald Gates spent 28 years behind bars for a crime he didn’t commit, says Keith Alexander in The Washington Post. “It’s strange,” says the 58-year-old ex-drifter of his newfound freedom. “But it feels so good. Man, it feels very good.” In 1981, Gates was a former Air Force engineer with a string of robbery and assault charges behind him when he was charged with the rape and murder of a young woman in Washington, D.C.’s Rock Creek Park. He was convicted largely on the testimony of a paid informant and a hair analysis by an FBI analyst who was later fired for performing inaccurate or falsified tests. Gates spent most of the next three decades in various federal prisons, ducking knife fights. “If you didn’t find a way to survive, you were dead by nightfall,” he says. “Every day I had to find a way.” He prayed nightly to be rescued from his hellish existence. In 1988, Gates began petitioning the courts to use the infant science of DNA testing on evidence in his case. Two decades passed before a DNA test proved he hadn’t committed the crime, and set Gates free. “I’m not into ‘Why me?’’’ he says. “I’m into my future. Being bitter isn’t going to change what happened, and it won’t give me those years back.”

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