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The Story of Raymond Towler's Imprisonment

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Raymond Towler is an American musician and artist, who was born on June 16, 1957. He is an experienced guitarist, keyboardist and trumpeter.

On September 18, 1981, when he was 24, Towler was falsely convicted of rape, kidnapping and felonious assault in Cuyahoga County, Ohio. On May 24, 1981, an 11-year-old girl and her 12-year-old male cousin were walking their bikes in a Cleveland park when they were taken into a wooded area by a man who claimed there was an injured deer that needed their help. The man pulled a gun and assaulted the boy, forcing him to lie on the ground while he raped and sexually assaulted the young girl.

Three weeks after the raping incident had occurred, Raymond Towler was identified as matching the description of the suspect when he was stopped by a Park Ranger during a routine traffic stop near the same Cleveland park. The ranger noticed that Raymond Towler resembled the composite sketch of the rapist that was created with the help of one of the child victims, and brought Towler into the police station where his photo was taken.

Many days later, both of the victims selected Towler from a photo array, even though it took the boy nearly 10 minutes to choose his photo, and the girl nearly 15 minutes. As well, two other witnesses who saw the rapist in the park that day also chose Towler’s photo from an array. Based on these identifications, Towler had been charged with rape, assault and kidnapping. The only physical evidence presented at Towler’s trial came from a forensic analyst who had microscopically examined a hair combed from the victim. He testified that the hair appeared to be a pubic hair and was a “negro” hair. The female victim was white. The analyst said, however, that the hair did not possess a sufficient number of unique individual characteristics to be linked to Towler. He did not present other qualifying information about the limitations of hair microscopy. Towler also took the stand. He spoke out and said that he did not commit the crimes and presented an alibi, which he was at home when the crimes took place. Several witnesses supported his alibi. Despite Towler’s alibi and the lack of physical evidence tying him to the crime, he was convicted and sentenced to life because of the fact that the victim was less than 13 years old. An additional 12-40 years were added to his sentence for the crimes against the boy.

More than 20 years after Towler was found guilty, Ohio created a law allowing DNA testing in very limited circumstances. Towler and the Ohio Innocence Project immediately filed an application for DNA testing, and access to testing was granted in 2004. After a while, prosecutors were asked to send the pubic hair from the crime scene to be sent to the lab. The envelope arrived at the lab empty. One month later, prosecutors said they were mailing material from under the victim’s fingernails. Again the envelope arrived at the lab empty. Later on, some clothing worn by the victims was sent to the lab. There was no semen found on the clothing, and testing ended. In 2008, Towler’s case was one of the 30 featured in a Columbus Dispatch series on Ohio prisoners who were seeking DNA tests that could potentially prove their innocence. Towler and the Ohio Innocence Project requested additional DNA testing under the new law, and the clothing was retested, even though it had previously tested negative for semen. The clothing was tested using a relatively new technology called Y-STR testing, which isolates male DNA by focusing on the Y chromosome. In May 2010, the final and fourth round of DNA results came back. The Y-STR results from the girl’s underwear excluded Raymond Towler as the criminal, finally clearing him after more than 28 years in prison.

Days later, Towler was a free man. He was 24 years old when he was convicted, and 52 on the day of his release. After Raymond Towler was released, he was awarded a $2.5 million settlement. After going through 29 years in jail, he was finally a free man.

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