Nathaniel E. Epps and Percell F. Warren loudly protested their innocence when they were convicted of raping and beating a woman in Norfolk, Virginia, in 1996. Two decades later, DNA testing has just proven conclusively that they could not have been the perpetrators, but the truth is confirmed too late for Warren who died of cancer in 2012 – while still incarcerated for crimes he did not commit.
Papers filed on Tuesday, June 21, 2016, in the Virginia Supreme Court by the Mid Atlantic Innocence Project, seek a writ of actual innocence, and the immediate release of Epps who still has more than a century to serve of his 156-year sentence.
At the time of their arrest, the two men provided alibis supported by the sworn testimony of family members. Nevertheless, they were found guilty on the basis of an identification by the victim, despite the fact that she made contradictory statements in doing so, and the uncorroborated testimony of a known felon.
The victim initially told police that her two assailants were in their 20s and that she had never seen them before. Epps was 46 and Warren was 39 at the time. She only changed her mind about her testimony after an ex-boyfriend reported to her and the police that a witness, Ernest Brazell told him that Epps and Warren were the perpetrators. Brazell later testified against Epps and Warren in court, and was believed by the jury in spite of the fact that he had a long criminal record and may have been motivated by monetary reward. He is since deceased.
“We strongly believe in the innocence of both Mr. Epps and Mr. Warren and will continue to pursue Mr. Warren’s vindication,” Shawn Armbrust, Executive Director of the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project, said when the latest papers were filed with the Supreme Court last Tuesday. That vindication and a full exoneration cannot come quickly enough, but Nathaniel Epps will never have the satisfaction of knowing that his name was cleared.
Witness misidentification and incentivized informant testimony are 2 of the leading causes of wrongful convictions. How many more tragic miscarriages of justice like the one in this story will be tolerated before the proper reforms are made to our criminal justice system to prevent it from happening?