No one listened to A. B. Butler Jr. for 16 long years. Thanks to DNA, his innocence is now proved.

{Editor's note: Even his attorneys know him only as "A. B. Butler Jr." and no one calls him anything else.}

A. B. Butler Jr.

By John McLemore, Guest Writer

(Edited by CATB)

On the night of May 20, 1983 a black man kidnapped a young white female at knifepoint from a motel parking lot in Tyler, Texas. The woman's assailant forced her to drive to a field in a rural area where he raped her. According to police reports, the rapist ejaculated inside of the woman, deposited semen on her skirt, and left three hair fragments on a cloth in her car. After being raped twice, the woman told police that she and her attacker walked to the highway together and then went their separate ways. The woman contacted her parents, who took her to the police station.

At the police station the young woman made a tentative identification of A. B. Butler Jr. while going through mug shots. She did not indicate anything unusual about Butler's teeth. Butler was arrested and convicted despite proclaiming his innocence. The jury sentenced Butler to 99 years in prison despite the fact that several witnesses vouched for his whereabouts the night of the rape, and evidence that he had been missing a front tooth since childhood. Because DNA testing did not exist in 1983, neither the semen slide from the rape kit, the semen from the skirt nor the hair fragments were subjected to testing.

Years later, Butler pleaded, to no avail, for DNA testing to be done. Finally, in June of 1997, the State agreed. However, no court would sign an order to obtain a blood sample from Butler until April of 1998.

On January 5, 1999, after conducting DNA testing, Cellmark Diagnostics issued a report stating that there was insufficient data to determine whether or not Butler was the source of the semen on the slide in the rape kit. On January 25, 1999, Cellmark sent the evidence to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in New York City. Robert Shaler, Ph.D., was the director of the Department of Forensic Biology. Shaler had developed Y chromosome specific STR testing to isolate male DNA. On February 26, 1999, the New York Medical Examiner's Office determined that Butler was not the source of the semen on the slide in the rape kit. The evidence was returned to the Smith County District Attorney's Office.

The results were sent to the DNA Testing Laboratory at BioSynthesis in Lewisville, Texas. On August 26, 1999, the lab reported that the findings in New York were accurate. Furthermore, BioSynthesis determined that Butler was not the source of the hair fragments either.

On November 12, 1999 the Texas DPS Crime Laboratory reported that Butler was not the source of the semen stains on the skirt. So far, three different labs have determined that Butler was not the source of the semen in the rape kit, that he was not the source of the semen on the skirt, and that he was not the source for the hairs found on the cloth.

Butler is innocent of this crime and has spent 16 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. On December 7, 1999, Butler's attorney, Randy Schaffer of Houston, Texas, filed an application for writ of habeas corpus with the 114th District Court of Smith County, Texas on Butler's behalf. "Without this DNA testing it is very unlikely that Butler would ever have gotten out of prison," says Schaffer a prominent Houston defense attorney.

Smith County is gaining national notoriety as a county where big mistakes have been made in the courtroom. Kerry Max Cook spent close to 20 years on Texas' Death Row for a crime he did not commit after being convicted in Smith County. In a mockery of justice, Cook had no choice but to plead no contest to the murder so he could gain his freedom. After he was free, DNA tests cleared him, but the guilty plea stands. The case reeked of prosecutorial misconduct and ineptness. Andrew Lee Mitchell also spent 14 years on Death Row because Smith County prosecutors withheld important exculpatory evidence in his case. "Butler never really stood a chance," says Schaffer. "In a situation where a young, white, sympathetic female is accusing a large, hulking, black man of raping her, there is little hope for the defendant. But when it takes place in deep east Texas there is almost no hope."

Schaffer is scheduled to argue for Butler's release Friday, January 7, 2000. Justice Denied will report the outcome.

About the author

John McLemore is well known in the tight-knit world of broadcast media for his courageous, award-winning work during the initial assault and later siege on the Branch Davidian compound. His investigative work into the cases of those unjustly convicted of crimes has also received national attention. A graduate of both The University of Texas and Baylor University, McLemore resides in Waco, Texas.

Butler Update:

He's free, with one more hurdle to go

On Friday, January 7, state District Judge Cynthia Stevens Kent released A.B. Butler, Jr. on bond. Her decision was based on the recommendation of the same county prosecutor who prosecuted Butler in 1983. "If you just wait around long enough, the truth will come around. I thank God for that," Butler told reporters as he left the courthouse.

Technically, Butler is not out of the woods yet. Judge Kent must still sign Butler's clemency request before he can be freed permanently. After this, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles must recommend clemency for Butler to Governor George W. Bush, who would then give the final approval.

The JD Staff wishes A. B. Butler the best of everything in his new life.

Justice Denied