A 36-year-old barber and ex-Marine who had been in state prison for 10 years for rape and kidnaping has been freed after DNA tests proved his innocence.
Frederick Rene Daye, convicted in 1984 in San Diego Superior Court after being identified by the rape victim and a witness, was released from Vacaville state prison late Tuesday and quickly caught a plane to Iowa for a joyous reunion with his family in Des Moines.
"I think it's great," Daye said as he left the prison. "Who can tell what I would have been able to achieve in the 10 years I've been incarcerated?"
Daye said he plans a lawsuit against his prosecutors. He won his freedom thanks to dogged determination by appellate attorney Carmela Simoncini and investigative reporter Mark Matthews of the ABC television affiliate in San Diego.
After Simoncini filed numerous motions on behalf of Daye, prosecutors finally agreed to do a type of DNA blood testing that was not available in 1984.
In 1990, Daye's co-defendant, who like Daye was serving a life sentence in prison, signed an affidavit saying that Daye was not involved in the crime. The same DNA test that cleared Daye confirmed the guilt of the co-defendant, David Pringle.
The DNA test results were ready Monday and San Diego Deputy Dist. Atty. James E. Atkins immediately asked a judge to order Daye released.
"I'm not sure what I can say to a man who probably is very bitter against the criminal justice system," Atkins said. "I'm sad he was convicted, but I'm happy we've finally been able to prove he didn't do it."
Pringle and Daye were convicted of rape, kidnaping, auto theft and robbery in separate jury trials. Pringle refused to testify at Daye's trial, citing his 5th Amendment rights.
Daye, who was an ex-convict when he was arrested for the 1984 rape, said he wants to get into show business. "I want to be a comic," he said. "I think I'm pretty funny."
In Des Moines, Daye's mother, Eunice Ridley, said her son's release is the answer to her prayers. "I knew my son was too nice (to be a rapist)," she told the Associated Press. "I prayed every day and every night, and went to church and prayed. That's all you need to do."
The DNA tests that cleared Daye also pointed to a cousin by marriage of Pringle as a possible accomplice of Pringle, according to prosecutors. The cousin has never been charged in the crime. All three men and the victim had volunteered blood samples, which were matched against blood found on the victim's clothing.
Daye and Pringle's cousin are similar in appearance, and each has a metallic front tooth. Daye's alibi--that he was with his live-in girlfriend at a gathering of military veterans--did not prove credible to the jury. He was also identified by a witness who saw a woman in her early 20s being abducted from a pharmacy parking lot.
There is no statute of limitations on kidnaping with the intent to rape, and the investigation has been reopened, Atkins said.
Simoncini, who works for Appellate Defenders Inc., a nonprofit corporation with a government contract to represent indigent defendants, said she believed from the beginning that Daye was innocent. After three motions were denied by the courts, she finally persuaded an appeals court to pay $2,000 for a DNA test, over the objection of the district attorney's office.
That test appeared to clear Daye when the results became known last spring. But prosecutors were unsure of the test's validity because the blood sample used had come from the trial evidence and age has been known to make such samples unreliable.
A second test--this time with fresh blood samples--was then undertaken. When Daye and Pringle were convicted in 1984, tests could only determine whether a defendant had the same blood type as that found in a stain.
Since 1984, forensic science has evolved so that DNA matches are considered nearly incontrovertible, particularly when large amounts of blood are available for testing.
While Simoncini pressed prosecutors to order the second test, Matthews did numerous stories on the case, locating Pringle's cousin and conducting an emotional interview with Daye in prison. The district attorney's office has been under pressure in several high-profile cases in the past year for declining to consider evidence that might exonerate a defendant.
"This is incredible," Simoncini said. "This is even better than a reversal or an acquittal, especially when it came so long after the fact and after such a hard-fought battle."
Daye said Wednesday that he plans to return to San Diego and file a lawsuit alleging that his civil rights were violated.
"I believed that someday I'd be free again," Daye said. "This must have happened to me because I was being tested to see if I could survive. I just want to go to church on Sunday and give thanks to God."
Daye was arrested two weeks after the rape after being stopped for a traffic violation. At first he gave a false identification and was "belligerent," Atkins said.
Daye was no stranger to trouble. He had been given a dishonorable discharge from the Marine Corps and later served a prison term in Minnesota for robbery.