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Hawaii News

DNA test frees rape suspect

Michael Tsai

A Maui man who spent nearly 20 years in prison in the rape of a woman during a burglary is getting a fresh chance at freedom after his original convictions were overturned based on new DNA evidence.

Alvin Jardine III, 41, was convicted in 1992 on four counts of first-degree sexual assault, three counts of attempted first-degree sexual assault, kidnapping and first-degree burglary and sentenced to 35 years after he was identified by the alleged victim as the person who broke into her home, held her at knifepoint and repeatedly raped her during the 1990 attack. But the case was fraught with uncertainty, and two separate trials ended in hung juries before a third jury, compelled to reach a decision by the presiding judge, found Jardine guilty.

On Friday, Maui Circuit Judge Joel August overturned the convictions and ordered a new trial based on DNA evidence obtained by the Hawaii Innocence Project that excluded Jardine as the source of fluids found on the one remaining piece of physical evidence from the original case. The new trial is scheduled for June 27, although it is not certain that prosecutors will decide to retry the case, despite their assertion that Jardine is still guilty. Jardine was released Friday after posting $75,000 bail.

"He was overwhelmed with emotion," said Honolulu attorney and Hawaii Innocence Project member Brook Hart, who represented Jardine. "He was in disbelief that after all this time, after spending almost his entire adult life in jail, that the justice system finally worked properly to free him."

Jardine had spent most his incarceration on the mainland, most recently in Arizona.

Hart said Jardine saw his adult daughter, who was born shortly after he went to prison, for the first time at Friday’s hearing.

Jardine, who claimed to have been at home at the time of the attack, maintained his innocence through each of his trials and twice — in 2002 and 2007 — gave up the possibility of parole by refusing to enter sex-abuse treatment that would have required him to admit guilt.

The new DNA evidence was drawn from a tablecloth that had been covering a papa-san chair that the rapist sat on during and after the assault. All other evidence from the original trials had been destroyed.

The tablecloth was sent to Orchid Cellmark laboratory for testing. The laboratory was able to exclude Jardine as the source of three of the four samples drawn from the cloth; the other could not be determined.

In his ruling, August agreed with Jardine’s attorneys that the original DNA evidence was insufficient and that the new results would likely have resulted in a different outcome at the trial had they been available.

Hart said he and his team were prepared to argue against the reliability of the victim’s identification of Jardine had the judge not been swayed by the DNA evidence.

Nationally, Innocence Project initiatives have resulted in the overturning of more than 260 convictions. Jardine’s case marks the first time that action by the 5-year-old Hawaii Innocence Project has resulted in convictions being overturned, although prisoners have been released via other legal means.

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