Civil Rights

DC agrees to pay more than $16M to man who served 27 years for rape and murder he didn't commit

  • Print.

After a federal jury on Wednesday found that two Washington D.C. police officers withheld evidence in a criminal prosecution of a man who served 27 years in prison for a rape and murder he didn’t commit, the city didn’t wait to hear what its damages award would be in the civil rights case.

On Thursday, as the jury’s decision on damages loomed, city officials agreed to pay $16.65 million to Donald Eugene Gates, now 64, reports the Associated Press. Added to the more than $1 million Gates previously received from the federal government, that means he will receive a total of $18 million for his wrongful conviction.

Gates was freed from prison in 2009, after he was cleared by DNA testing. He reportedly was convicted based largely on an FBI analyst’s incorrect testimony that hairs found on the victim’s body matched Gates. The jury on Wednesday also found that the two D.C. police officers withheld evidence and one fabricated evidence, the Post article says.

In his 2010 civil rights suit, Gates said his constitutional rights were violated by the officers. The officers allegedly funneled information to a police informant and let him give false testimony.

The city said the officers did nothing unconstitutional, but the jury disagreed.

Attorney Peter Neufeld, who is one of the lawyers representing Gates, said Thursday that other murder cases on which the two officers worked should also be reviewed.

Hair evidence has now been largely discredited. Additionally, in a 1997 review the U.S. Department of Justice determined that more than a dozen federal analysts, including the analyst in the Gates case, had performed inaccurate tests and made false reports, the Washington Post (reg. req.) explained in an article published in 2009.

It was questionable if anyone else could be convicted in the 1981 slaying of Georgetown University student Catherine Schilling, 21, whose body was found in Rock Creek Park. Although DNA evidence could be used to match the crime to a suspect, some of the original evidence and case file material are gone, the Post reported in 2009.

In fact, DNA evidence did pinpoint a suspect in 2013, but he had died the previous year, the Associated Press now reports.

Related coverage:

Associated Press: “DNA testing clears man who served 28 years”

Give us feedback, share a story tip or update, or report an error.