- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 4, 2000

The Virginia Department of Corrections is recalculating the sentence of pardoned convict Earl Washington Jr., whose future will then rest in the hands of the state Parole Board.

The five-member board could decide in the coming days whether the governor's pardon means freedom for the inmate, who was also serving time on an unrelated charge.

Gov. James S. Gilmore III granted Washington a pardon Monday after DNA tests cleared him of the 18-year-old rape and capital murder of Rebecca L. Williams, 19.

The Republican governor, however, would not free the prisoner because he is still serving a 30-year sentence for beating an elderly woman with a chair and taking a gun and cash from her home.

This is the first time in Virginia's history that someone convicted of capital murder has been pardoned based on DNA evidence, according to David Botkins, a spokesman for Attorney General Mark Earley.

Washington's lawyers applauded Mr. Gilmore's action, but insist their client would have been paroled for those other crimes by 1998 at the latest. He was eligible for parole in 1988.

"It looks as though he should be released right away," said Robert T. Hall, Washington's Virginia-based lawyer. This kind of process, he noted, can be notoriously slow.

Larry Traylor, a spokesman for the Corrections Department, disagreed.

"Because this is a very high-profile case, I think the Parole Board is going to make every effort to handle this as soon as possible," he said.

The recalculation will take into account time served, Washington's disciplinary history while in prison and the change in the parole system instituted in 1995.

Washington was incarcerated long before Gov. George F. Allen in 1995 required that every inmate imprisoned thereafter serve at least 85 percent of his sentence.

Every inmate gets such a review once a year, Mr. Traylor said.

Washington is being held at the Keen Mountain Correctional Center, a facility between medium and maximum security in Buchanan County, on the West Virginia and Kentucky borders.

Analyses of semen taken from the body of Mrs. Williams after her June 4, 1982, slaying showed it could not have come from Washington, Mr. Gilmore said in a written statement announcing his decision.

The DNA tests identified semen on a blue blanket found at the crime scene as that of a convicted rapist, and Mr. Gilmore ordered state police to reopen the investigation into the slaying.

Washington, who is mentally retarded, was arrested in May 1983 and charged with breaking into the Fauquier County home of Helen Weeks, 73, beating her and burglarizing her home. He later was sentenced to two consecutive 15-year terms for the crimes.

After his arrest, Washington confessed to the rape and murder of Mrs. Williams in Culpeper County nearly a year earlier. At his trial, Washington recanted his confession but was convicted and sentenced to death.

In 1994, former Gov. L. Douglas Wilder commuted Washington's sentence to life in prison as a result of DNA tests that showed the presence of genetic material that belonged neither to Washington nor the victim's husband. That test, however, did not exclude Washington.

On June 1, Mr. Gilmore ordered the state Division of Forensic Science to conduct tests not available in 1994. After analyzing results of the tests, the governor last month ordered a state police review to look for new evidence to be examined.

The result was the testing of the blue blanket, which revealed the presence of semen matching the convicted rapist, the governor wrote in his 10-paragraph statement.

"However, the DNA on the blue blanket did not match the DNA of the sole sample of semen taken from Mrs. Williams' body," Mr. Gilmore said. The Forensic Science Division could not confirm that the DNA on the blanket came from Mrs. Williams' attacker, the statement said.

With that question unresolved, Mr. Gilmore ordered the murder investigation reopened.

Mr. Gilmore, in two years of office, has pardoned one other convict, Hassan Moinifar.

Convicted of unlawful wounding, Moinifar served six months in jail and was scheduled in 1998 to be deported back to his native Iran. He had converted from the Islamic faith to Christianity and feared persecution in his homeland.

The governor refused in 1998 to pardon Alfred Odell Martin III, the recaptured convict who escaped from prison 25 years earlier while serving a one-year term for selling $10 worth of marijuana. Martin had built a respectable life in Michigan.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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