Trial involving rape of College student in 1978 takes new turn after DNA testing
At 1:50 p.m. on Feb. 7, 1978, a female student at the College of William and Mary emerged from the Parkway Apartments on Merrimac Trail to an unfamiliar face.
“He was standing in the doorway when I opened the door. He just stood there,” the victim — identified only by her initials in court documents — told police later that afternoon. “I said, ‘Oh, you scared me.’ He said, ‘I meant to.’”
The assailant — described as a young black male wearing a blue beanie and suede coat — then pulled a small, silver revolver from his pocket, held it to the victim’s head, led her back into the apartment, and raped her.
“He told me to stay there and not move and to count to 100,” the victim told police moments after the incident occurred. “If I screamed or stopped counting, he would kill me.”
A week later, the victim identified her alleged attacker from a group of 19 mug shot photos. The next day, Feb. 15,1978, City of Williamsburg police officers arrested Bennett S. Barbour at his home in Charles County on the count of first degree rape.
On April 28 of that year, the court sentenced Barbour to 10 years imprisonment for the crime.
However, recent DNA analysis — unavailable at the time — has eliminated Barbour as a contributor to the biological evidence found at the scene of the crime; he was innocent. And on May 24, the Virginia Supreme Court granted a writ of actual innocence to the now divorced 56-year-old with bone cancer.
The Innocence Project Clinic at the University of Virginia Law School compared the evidence with criminal records and implicated previously-convicted sex offender James M.Glass.
Glass was tried earlier this year for failure to register as a violent sex offender on unrelated charges. His trial for the 1978 rape, originally scheduled for this summer, is slated to begin early this December.
Major Greg Riley of the Williamsburg Police Department, the lead on the reopened investigation, discussed some of the issues involved with following 30-year-old leads.
“When you get information on a case, the first thing you want to do is speak to victims, witnesses about the case. And that doesn’t change in this case; it just made locating this subject a bit more difficult,” he said. “Understandably, eyewitness testimony can be difficult. It’s going to depend on the recall of the individual you’re talking to. When you rely on eyewitness testimony in any case, you try to corroborate that with other witnesses.”
This new genetic evidence appears to corroborate with existing forensics and the testimony of three witnesses who corroborated Barbour’s alibi at the time of the crime.
“In addition, the available forensic evidence did not implicate Barbour,” Assistant Attorney General II Alice T. Armstrong wrote in the state’s response to Barbour’s petition for innocence. “For example, the hairs the police collected from the apartment were ‘not consistent’ with Barbour. Likewise, fingerprint analysis eliminated Barbour as the source of the latent fingerprints collected from the apartment.”
According to Department of Corrections records, Barbour spent four years in prison on unrelated grand larceny and breaking-and-entering charges until his parole in 1982. Barbour served 324 days in custody as a result of the rape conviction, from May 1986 until March 1987.