May 10, 2012

After An Exoneration, A Rape Victim and An Innocent Man Still Bound By A Terrible Crime

5-10-2012 Texas:

This week's feature tells the story of Debbie Jones, a Richardson woman who was raped and robbed at knifepoint in 1985, when she was 19.

Soon after the crime, Jones picked Thomas McGowan out of a photo lineup. He was convicted of burglary and sexual assault and sentenced to two consecutive life sentences. Jones tried her best to move on with her life. But when DNA evidence exonerated McGowan in 2008, she suddenly had to live with the knowledge that her mistaken identification had put an innocent man in prison. At the time, her real rapist hadn't yet been found -- and when he finally was, the statute of limitations to prosecute him had passed.

Jones agreed to speak with the Observer about her experiences, the first time she's been interviewed at length. But one of her main concerns was McGowan: She wanted to make sure nothing in the article hurt or upset him. Although she never could have imagined it, the two have tentatively formed a friendship; today, they occasionally speak at events together about wrongful conviction and exoneration, sometimes accompanied by Mike Corley, who was a detective on Jones' case.

"We'll always always be forever bound by this," Jones says.

Jones and McGowan first met about a year after the exoneration, in a sometimes-awkward meeting at Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins' office. For McGowan, the chance to meet Jones face-to-face was transformative.

"I got the chance to meet the woman that said that I had did this," he explains. "The best part about it was I got a chance to meet her, talk to her. ... Meeting her was a good chance to meet and face my accuser and really just look at her in the face." ..For the remainder of this story: by Anna Merlan

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