Newly freed man calls for reform in criminal investigations

LOS ANGELES - Blood tests used to convict him for a 1986 rape and robbery were ''scientific fraud'' and point to the need for serious reform, says a man who spent 12 years in prison for a crime he didn't commit.

''I hope my sons don't get bitter or become prejudiced towards any particular group of people because of what happened to their father,'' Herman Atkins said as his eyes teared.

''To be labeled as a rapist ... that's the worst form of label you can have,'' he said.

Atkins, flanked by former O.J. Simpson attorneys Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld, called for reform.

''This case should be a wake-up call to get rid of the problems within the system and allow post-conviction DNA testing,'' Neufeld said.

Atkins, 34, was convicted of rape and robbery in 1988 based on blood tests and the testimony of two eyewitnesses. Despite his claims of innocence, he was convicted and sentenced to 45 years in prison.

Atkins was freed on Friday from Ironwood State Prison in Blythe after DNA evidence proved he could not have been the person who committed the rape and robbery in Lake Elsinore.

At the time of the crime, Atkins was living with an aunt and uncle in South Central Los Angeles and told investigators he had never been to Riverside County, didn't even know where Lake Elsinore was located. His wife, Anne-Marie, testified that her husband did not have access to a car when the crimes took place.

But Riverside County crime lab technician James Hall conducted the blood tests and he testified the semen evidence collected was so rare that it excluded 94 percent of the population and Atkins fit within the remaining 6 percent.

A specialist hired by the attorneys analyzed the serology results a few months ago and determined that the sample excluded no one as the rapist.

''Any male in the state of California had a profile consistent with the evidence in this case,'' Neufeld said.

Similar mistakes are going to happen again, Neufeld cautioned. He urged the state's attorney general to review cases similar to Atkins' and check serology laboratory test results for accuracy by using more current DNA test procedures.

The attorneys also want faster action when results show someone had been wrongfully convicted.

Neufeld and Scheck run the New York-based Innocence Project, an organization established specifically to help free wrongfully convicted prisoners. Atkins first contacted them in 1993.

There should also be a statute requiring private compensation for those ''who have had their lives wrecked by these injustices in the state of California'' so that they can restart their lives, Scheck said.

The attorneys are filing a civil rights lawsuit on Atkins' behalf.

Atkins' wife stood by his side, along with his two sons, Herman Atkins, Jr., 13, and Imari-Kiongozi, 6, who was conceived by Atkins' wife during a conjugal visit.

When asked about his plans now, an emotional Atkins said he was going to re-establish a relationship with his sons.

''It would be better to ask me a year from now how I feel about finally being set free,'' he said.


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