- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 7, 2007

RICHMOND — Gov. Timothy M. Kaine has issued an “absolute pardon” to a man who spent nearly a decade on death row and came within nine days of being executed for a murder he did not commit.

The pardon proclaims Earl Washington Jr.’s innocence in the June 1982 rape and murder of Rebecca Lynn Williams, a 19-year-old mother of three.

The mildly disabled Mr. Washington falsely confessed and subsequently recanted, but was sentenced to death and came within days of execution in 1985.

In 2000, DNA testing implicated a convicted rapist, Kenneth Maurice Tinsley, who pleaded guilty in April to Mrs. Williams‘ slaying in Culpeper. Mr. Washington was pardoned by Gov. James S. Gilmore III in 2002, but that pardon did not mean he was innocent, only that a jury would not have convicted him in light of the DNA evidence.

“It is now evident that Mr. Washington was and is innocent of the crimes against Mrs. Williams,” Mr. Kaine wrote in the pardon, issued Tuesday. “I have decided it is just and appropriate to grant this revised absolute pardon that reflects Mr. Washington’s innocence.”

Mr. Kaine is the fourth Virginia governor to have undertaken an extensive review of Mr. Washington’s case, his spokesman Kevin Hall said yesterday.

“It’s frightening to realize that the commonwealth came dangerously close to putting a man to death for a crime we now know he did not commit,” Mr. Hall said.

Last year, a federal jury in Charlottesville awarded Mr. Washington $2.25 million in damages, ruling that a now-deceased state police investigator violated Mr. Washington’s civil rights by feeding him details of the crime that led to a confession.

But Mr. Washington, 47, who has married since his release and is a maintenance worker in Virginia Beach, reached a $1.9 million settlement with the state while the award was being contested.

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