Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) on Wednesday granted an absolute pardon to a convicted sex offender, ending a decades-long campaign by an imprisoned man whose claims of innocence were eventually joined by prosecutors and police.
Final proof that Michael Kenneth McAlister, 58, was wrongly convicted came when another man — a serial rapist who bore an uncanny resemblance to McAlister — recently confessed to the 1986 attempted rape and kidnapping in Richmond, the governor said.
The unconditional pardon wipes away a prosecution that has haunted officials familiar with the investigation for decades, and came days before McAlister faced what his attorneys called the “Kafka-esque prospect” of being locked away for years more under a Virginia law that allows the civil commitment of sexual predators after they complete their criminal sentences.
“A number of individuals in the law enforcement community . . . have concluded that this crime was committed by another individual, and that Mr. McAlister should be freed to return to his family and his community,” McAuliffe said in a written statement. “I have reached the same conclusion, and I have acted in accordance with the law.”
McAlister, released and reunited with his elderly mother and sister shortly before sundown in the parking lot of Dillwyn Correctional Center in Virginia’s central Piedmont region, said: “It’s a great day. It’s a wonderful day. . . . Governor McAuliffe, he’s a special man for being brave enough to do this.”
McAlister, who served more than 28 years in the attempted-rape case and for a later parole violation, expressed regret that the victim in his conviction had gone through so much, first the attack and then learning of the misidentification.
“It wasn’t her fault, and I don’t hold any hard feelings at all toward her,” he said. As for the man who confessed to the crime, McAlister said, “I hope he can deal with his issues as best he can.”
There is just too much of this going on. What is the answer? Even DNA isn’t perfect. What would it be like to be imprisoned for 28 years for something you didn’t do? What steps will be taken in law enforcement to weed out those who have been wrongly incarcerated? Some of these men (and maybe women) have been incarcerated so long that the accusers, prosecutors and cops have probably retired or died. Those who have money don’t usually find themselves in these kinds of fixes.
Doppelgangers occasionally are the problem. There have been cases of bearing false witness. Then there are the cases of just plain old sloppy police work.
I hope Mr. McAlister enjoys the rest of his days and will stay out of trouble and away from booze and cars. I also hope that DNA matches are used and that those providing and interpreting the results of DNA testing are careful and above reproach.