An absolute pardon has been issued to Arthur Lee Whitfield by the Norfolk Gov.Timothy M. Kaine. After serving nearly 22 years in prison for two 1981 rapes, his conviction has now been erased thanks to DNA evidence.

According to Whitfield’s lawyer, Michael F. Fasanaro Jr. the pardon means that Whitfield’s name will be removed form the state’s sex offender registry, he will no longer be on probation and can claim compensation for the years he spent behind bars.

When questioned about the length of time the pardon request has been pending, a spokesman for Gov. Kaine said,”it takes time to do the testing and to look carefully at the evidence before a decision can be made.”

There was opposition to the pardon from one of the rape victims, who at the time of the investigation identified Whitfield from a series of police photo line-ups. She had testified against him during the trial and maintained that he was her attacker.

Another man, Victor Anthony Burnette from Richmond, who served 8 years for a 1979 rape, was also pardoned through by the same DNA samples that cleared Whitfield.

Although Burnette had previously asked for DNA evidence he was told that it had been destroyed. However, thanks to old samples of blood, semen and saliva that had been kept before DNA testing was used, the cases could be reopened.

Following the storage of DNA evidence by a former state forensic lab worker, Mary Jane Burton, new samples were compared to provide exclusion evidence in both rape cases. Once one cases had been reviewed, the then Gov. Mark Warner was prompted to order that all cases at the time be pulled and re-examined. Workers at the Department of Forensic Science pulled and sorted thousands of files, which led to several other exonerations.

“The department and its scientists are gratified anytime their work can help advance the ends of justice and bolster confidence in the system,”Director Pete Marone said.
Date : April 2009

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