Burden of Innocence
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photo of frederick dayefrederick daye

Year of incident: 1984
Conviction: Rape (two counts); kidnapping; vehicle theft
Sentence: Life +
Year of conviction: 1984
Year of exoneration: 1994
Sentence served: 10 years

On Jan. 10, 1984, in San Diego, Calif., a young white woman was attacked by two men as she walked to her car. She described the first assailant as a black man with long processed hair and a metallic front tooth, and said that he pushed her into the car and then let in another man through the back. The perpetrators stole her jewelry and then raped her, and eventually stole her car and left her on the street.

Fifteen days after the rape, Frederick Daye, a slight 26-year-old black man from Des Moines, Iowa, was holding an open container of alcohol in a car that was stopped for a traffic violation. The officers, who believed that Daye fit the description of the first assailant, took his picture. From a photo array of five pictures, the victim picked Daye as her attacker. Several days later, the victim and a witness identified him in a line-up. Daye was arrested along with David Pringle, the suspected second assailant.

Daye and Pringle had separate trials. At his own trial, Daye testified that he had never seen Pringle before, and witnesses said that Daye was at a birthday party at a bar at the time of the rape. Pringle pled the Fifth Amendment and refused to testify at Daye's trial. Besides the victim's identification of Daye, the prosecution offered evidence that conventional serology revealed a match between his blood type and a semen stain, and testimony from a police officer that Daye had given a false name when they picked him up. In 1984, largely based on the victim's identification, Daye was convicted of kidnapping, robbery, and rape. He was sentenced to life in prison. An appeal was denied in 1986.

In 1990, Pringle -- who had been convicted of the rape -- sent the trial judge a statement declaring that Daye was not involved in the crime. A public defender was appointed to investigate the statement but failed to do so. Finally, attorney Carmela Simoncini took over Daye's case and after several denied appeals persuaded an appeals court to pay for DNA testing. The DNA results came back in April 1994 and showed that the semen on the victim's clothing could not have come from Daye. Still, the prosecutors and the trial court would not reopen the case.

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photo of frederick daye

Daye in September 1994 upon his release from prison.

Simoncini brought the story to KGTV in San Diego, which broadcast several reports indicating that prosecutors were ignoring DNA results, while Los Angeles prosecutors were building their case around such evidence in the ongoing O.J. Simpson trial. Finally San Diego District Attorney Jim Aitkins ordered his own DNA tests, and the results came back excluding Daye. His sentence was vacated, and he was released from prison on Sept. 29, 1994, after serving 10 years.

The DNA results matched both Pringle and another man. (This other man is also black and has a gold metallic tooth, which is on the right; Daye has a silver tooth on the left.) The victim, however, still maintains that Daye was the rapist. Since she has refused to come forward and to testify against him, the other man has never been charged.

After his release, Daye returned to his home in Iowa. Three months later, he married Mary Bell, his high school sweetheart whom he wrote while in prison. At first, things went smoothly: Daye got a job, went to church with Mary, and they had a daughter. But he couldn't keep up with these responsibilities. He lost his job, began doing drugs and womanizing. In an effort to keep their marriage together, Daye and Mary moved to North Carolina, away from his destructive environment. But once there, Frederick spent his days hanging out with friends and doing drugs. He sometimes would take long trips and not return for months, leaving Mary and their daughter to themselves. After five years, Mary filed for a divorce.

photo of frederick daye

Daye on Oprah.

Daye returned to Iowa and eventually married another high school sweetheart, Castine. These days, he wakes up early with nowhere to go. He begins his day drinking a quart of beer, nursing it well into the afternoon. He goes to his aunt's house and plays cards with his sister and cousins. He says he can't work because of his emotional distress. He cries when he talks about prison.

He has not received any compensation. With the help of his lawyer, Dwight Ritter, he has appealed to the California Board of Compensation asking for $100 for every day he spent in prison.


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published may 1, 2003

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