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DNA holds the key to the exoneration of Billy Glaze

Ed Magarian//September 19, 2014

DNA holds the key to the exoneration of Billy Glaze

Ed Magarian//September 19, 2014

Twenty-seven years ago, the world was a completely different place. The Iron Curtain had not yet fallen, the Internet as we know it did not exist, and smartphones were found only in science fiction.  This was the world Billy Glaze last saw as a free man following his arrest and subsequent conviction for three brutal murders he did not commit.

Mr. Glaze was arrested in 1987 and ultimately prosecuted in 1989 for the sexual assault and murder of three Native American women on three separate days in 1986 and 1987 at three locations in Minneapolis. The evidence against him for these serial murders was weak. There was no real physical “evidence” aside from a size ten shoe print found more than 40 feet from one victim’s body.  DNA testing as we know it today did not exist.

Instead, Mr. Glaze’s conviction was based largely on testimony of jailhouse snitches who were hoping for more favorable treatment for testifying against him as well as other witnesses who were caught up in the community hysteria to find the killer. It wasn’t until Mr. Glaze’s picture was published in the newspaper that most of these witnesses came forward with vague recollections of having seen him in the area where the victims hung out.

Not surprisingly, then-Chief of Police Tony Bouza — who pushed for Mr. Glaze to be prosecuted for these crimes in 1989 — candidly described the case against Mr. Glaze  as “shaky” during an interview with KARE11 in June of this year. In fact, Chief Bouza stated in that same interview that the then-county attorney told Chief Bouza, “It’s potentially a losable case. I really don’t see the point.” Chief Bouza responded that: “I’m willing to lose the case — let’s prosecute him anyway.”

Mr. Glaze wrote to the Minnesota Innocence Project 10 years ago, and the Project has been working on his case ever since, reinvestigating the case and arranging for DNA testing of more than 40 items from the three crime scenes. As a result of this investigation, among other things, a DNA profile was developed from the vaginal swab taken from one of the victims. With the help of the FBI, that DNA profile was uploaded to the national database to determine if the DNA profile matched any known convicted felon.

We learned in 2012 that the DNA profile developed at one of the murder scenes matched a convicted felon. It was not just any convicted felon — this was a man who lived in Minneapolis and who, just one month after Mr. Glaze was convicted, abducted and raped yet another Native American woman in Minneapolis. Recently, another DNA profile was developed from one of the other serial murder crime scenes from a cigarette butt found a few feet from one of the other murder victim’s body. Like the DNA from the vaginal swab, the DNA profile developed from the second scene also matched the DNA of the same convicted rapist. And, yes, as to the shoe print evidence introduced at trial — this convicted rapist, whose DNA has been found at two of the crimes scenes, also had a size 10 foot. None of the evidence tested from any of the crime scenes matched Billy Glaze.

The State prosecuted this case based upon the information they had and the limited technology available to the prosecution team at the time. The State could not have known what we know today — that Mr. Glaze’s DNA is not at any of the murder scenes, but that the DNA of a convicted rapist of another Native American woman is. The State’s summation underscored the weakness of the case against Billy. The State told the jury in their closing argument: “Make no bones about it, with the exception of the shoe print there is no physical evidence pointing to this man.  But just the other side of the coin is this, there is no physical evidence pointing at anybody else.” While true in 1989, we now know it would not be true if uttered today.

Today the convicted rapist whose DNA was found at two of the murder scenes is free, having completed his sentence for the 1989 rape of a Native American woman in Minneapolis (as well as other prison terms since that time). In addition to making false statements, this convicted rapist told investigators in June of this year, among other things, that he believes a woman visits him and talks to him at night but he knows she is not alive. He also reported seeing faces looking at him where there aren’t any faces really there, like in trees and other places out in the world.

Today, Mr. Glaze just marked his 71st birthday behind bars. A partnership of Dorsey & Whitney and the Innocence Projects in both Minnesota and New York, is working to make sure that this is the last birthday he spends imprisoned for a crime he did not commit, and that justice is done for the victims and their families.

Ed Magarian is a partner at Dorsey & Whitney LLP and board member of the Minnesota Innocence Project.

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