Additional reading: DNA evidence casts doubt on Henry Jamerson’s rape conviction after 24 years in prison. Prosecutors are fighting efforts to clear his name.

A judge threw out the conviction on Tuesday of a Tulsa man who served 24 years in prison after being convicted of rape. The Frontier profiled Wiliam Henry Jamerson  last year, reporting on new evidence that cast doubt on his conviction.

In vacating the sentence, District Judge David Guten found that “newly discovered evidence undermines confidence in the verdict” from 1991.

Jamerson watched Guten intently as the judge made his remarks, then hugged his attorney, Dan Smolen, after Guten announced he was vacating the sentence. Jamerson’s friends and family, more than a dozen of whom attended the hearing, erupted in cheers.

“It’s a blessing,” Jamerson said afterward, noting “mixed emotions” while thinking about all he’d missed while in prison. “I missed a lot. My three brothers passed away … I’ve still got my little brother, my mom and my sister, and they’ve been beside me.”

Jamerson’s 1991cconviction was largely based on testing on semen recovered during sexual assault exam of the victim, Kayleen Dubbs, and her supposed positive identification of Jamerson, including in a police photo lineup. 

The Frontier does not identify victims of sexual assault, but Dubbs, who attended Tuesday’s hearing, consented in multiple interviews to her identity being used.

William Henry Jamerson, left, embraces Kayleen Dubbs after Jamerson’s sentence was vacated on Tuesday. Jamerson had been convicted in 1991 of raping Dubbs, but his sentence was vacated after Dubbs recanted her testimony and a test on semen recovered from the crime was found to not match Jamerson’s DNA. DYLAN GOFORTH/The Frontier

In 2022, a defense team working on Jamerson’s behalf found semen recovered from Dubbs’ sexual assault examination. New tests on the sample excluded Jamerson from being the source. Dubbs spoke with The Frontier in 2023 and said she did not identify Jamerson as her attacker in 1991. Dubbs, who was 16 at the time of the attack, said police first told her it was Jamerson who attacked her. 

Guten ruled that if the jury had known the DNA did not belong to Jamerson, and had Dubbs testified that she did not believe Jamerson was her attacker, the trial outcome likely would have been different.

Dubbs told The Frontier following Tuesday’s hearing that helping to clear Jamerson’s name was an important moment for her.

“To be able to hear a judge finally listen to us and do what is right means everything to me,” Dubbs said. “It’s been a long time coming.”

After the hearing, Dubbs and Jamerson embraced outside of the courtroom.

“I’m so sorry,” Dubbs told Jamerson and his family members.

Smolen said after the hearing that Jamerson’s case was an example of a broken justice system.

“This case in a very profound way shows how broken the criminal justice system has been through the years and continues to remain in a state of disrepair,” Smolen said. “It needs to be fixed so that people like Henry Jamerson don’t spend their entire lives in prison.”

Jamerson said he spent years being angry at Dubbs while he was in prison, but that his sister had urged him to forgive her.

“My sister told me you have to forgive to move forward,” Jamerson said. “It’s over with and I thank her for going up there and clearing my name.”

“You’re innocent,” Dubbs replied. “You always have been.”

Sign up to get text message updates when we publish a story

Authorities said during Jamerson’s trial in 1991 that tests on semen recovered from Dubbs put Jamerson in a “narrow class” of people who could have been the rapist. 

Back then, advanced DNA techniques were not widely used. Instead, police in his case relied on more rudimentary tests to determine whether blood had been secreted, which enabled them to determine blood type.

Trial transcripts show prosecutors told jurors those tests couldn’t confirm Jamerson as the source, but they couldn’t rule him out either. Jurors took about three hours to come back with a guilty verdict and Jamerson was sentenced to 34 years in prison on three felony counts. 

Jamerson has maintained for more than three decades that he did not rape Dubbs, and pleaded with the Tulsa County District Attorney’s Office in letters and court motions to find and test the rape kit for DNA. Authorities said each time that the sexual assault examination evidence had been destroyed. 

But those repeated claims by police were wrong. The evidence police insisted for more than two decades had been destroyed was instead found last year in a police property storage facility. Once that evidence was tested, Jamerson was excluded as being the source.

Smolen argued there was no longer any evidence tying Jamerson to the crime without positive testing or Dubbs identifying him.

Tulsa County prosecutors argued against vacating Jamerson’s sentence, placing blame on Dubbs and Jamerson for not coming forward sooner.

Assistant District Attorney Kevin Leitch told the judge he had at times questioned why the state was attempting to maintain the  conviction, given that Jamerson had already served his sentence and been released from prison. However, Leitch said, a jury found Jamerson guilty, and even with the newly discovered DNA evidence and Dubbs’ recantation, it was too late to overturn the conviction.

Why, Leitch asked, did it take more than 30 years for Dubbs to say she didn’t believe Jamerson was her assailant?

“Thirty-three years later and you’ve done nothing to rectify it?” Leitch said. 

The judge noted in his ruling that Jamerson had claimed in court filings that Tulsa police and the Tulsa County District Attorney’s Office withheld information important to his defense, known as a Brady violation. 

“Evidence that seems material seems to have been withheld,” he said, referencing the biological samples taken during the rape exam. 

“The one that’s most troubling is that there is evidence that someone other than Mr. Jamerson was identified as the assailant. … It should have been disclosed,” Guten said. 

Prosecutors told Guten they intended to appeal his ruling.

Dubbs told The Frontier she was a poor, pregnant teenager at the time of her attack, and she trusted that police were telling her the truth. 

“I was coerced to believe it was his DNA, and they hounded me that he was the guy, and they gave me his name,” Dubbs said. “They kept me away from the courtrooms because I was pregnant and young … I couldn’t read the newspapers, I couldn’t watch the television. They wouldn’t allow me to.

“They hid me from everything or this wouldn’t have happened.”

Creative Commons License

Republish our articles for free, online or in print, under a Creative Commons license.