By Chaylee N. Brock
In recent years, the epidemic of untested rape kits has been brought to light in America. We have accepted, as a society, that these untested rape kits often result in victims never seeing justice and possible sex offenders being left to wander our streets.
However, the problem of untested rape kits can also lead to innocent men being incarcerated for crimes they never committed.
That’s the predicament at the heart of the case against Vernon Bateman.
In 1998, Bateman, of Gary, Indiana, was accused of rape, a crime for which he was later tried and convicted. He spent about fifteen years in prison before being granted parole in 2016. However, shortly after being released, he was placed back in prison for violating his parole after it was found he was using his cell phone to solicit sex.
While he has served punishment for the 1998 sexual assault, new evidence has now come to light, putting his conviction into question.
An organization called The Innocence Project, located in New York City, has since picked up Bateman’s case, working to prove his innocence and advocate on his behalf.
One of the main arguments The Innocence Project has made against Bateman’s conviction is that the rape kit collected from the victim in 1998 was never tested.
Instead, Bateman was convicted solely on witness testimony.
Originally, there were three suspects in this case, including a man named Sa’Ron Foley. All three men were accused of holding the victim at gunpoint and then raping her.
Following the assault, the victim went to the hospital and had a rape kit conducted. There is proof that the rape kit was taken and exists, but it seems that, since then, it has been either lost or destroyed. It was not used as evidence in the trial, and as far as anyone knows, it has never been tested. The absence of the rape kit in Bateman’s trial means that there was never any DNA evidence to prove his guilt (or innocence).
Without that DNA evidence, Sa’Ron Foley was able to point the finger at Bateman, saying that he was the one responsible for the rape, despite the fact that a search warrant carried out by police in Foley’s home found both the mask and gun believed to have been used in the attack. During the trial, Foley told the judge that the mask and gun actually belonged to and were used by Bateman.
Since Bateman’s conviction, Foley has admitted to giving false testimony, now claiming that Bateman was not involved in the crime. Foley says he made the accusations against Bateman because of an unrelated grudge he held at the time. For the last twenty years, Foley has been trying to convince the courts, and even the Governor, of Bateman’s innocence, to no avail.
The victim in this case has also come out since the conviction and recanted her testimony, as well admitted that she was under the influence of drugs during the attack. Of course, being under the influence does not justify the attack or prove that it never happened, but it could have skewed her ability to identify her attacker, especially if he was wearing a mask.
There are also many questions as to the behavior and actions of the investigators and prosecutors involved in the case. Some have accused the lead detective, Mary Banks, of having worked this case with a personal bias. Others have even accused Detective Banks of being negligent in her duties, and even tampering with evidence, including the untested, lost rape kit.
None of these allegations against Detective Banks have been verified, but they are often used by Bateman’s supporters in trying to prove his innocence.
While some facts being used to defend Vernon Bateman cannot be proven, The Innocence Project still feels they have a strong case to prove Bateman’s innocence, or to at least argue that the evidence was never sufficient enough to warrant such a severe prison sentence.
While speaking with Fox 59 news, attorneys from The Innocence Project laid out three of the main factors in a wrongful conviction and claimed that Bateman’s case contains all three:
- Unvalidated forensics (in this case a DNA kit was never tested)
- Eyewitness misidentification
- False testimony
According to the Fox 59 article and interview, it’s these three factors that lead The Innocence Project to believe they can prove Bateman’s innocence and clear his name.
Attorneys from The Innocence Project also say they are committed to finding the lost rape kit (given that it still exists somewhere) and having it tested; they believe the DNA evidence the rape kit would provide would not be a match with Bateman, further proving his innocence.
Unfortunately, due to their heavy caseload, The Innocence Project has had to put Bateman’s case on hold, to tend to cases of much more pressing matters, including cases that involve the death penalty.
Petitions have been started, asking those in authority (Indiana State Governor Eric Holcomb, the Indiana State House, and even President Trump) to help clear Bateman’s name, but as of now, he is still incarcerated and the case is currently at a standstill.
Even though still imprisoned, Vernon Bateman has refused to give up on life. He received his high school diploma, has become a talented artist, and has even written and illustrated multiple children’s books.
When updates to the case are available, we will bring them to you at WMTV27.