(AP)- A man who contended throughout his 26 years in prison that he never raped a woman who lived five houses down from him was freed Thursday after a judge recommended overturning his conviction.
Charles Chatman, 47, was released on his recognizance as several of his eight siblings cheered. He was freed on the basis of new DNA testing that lawyers say proves his innocence and adds to Dallas County's nationally unmatched number of wrongfully convicted inmates.
"I'm bitter. I'm angry," Chatman told The Associated Press during his last night in jail Wednesday. "But I'm not angry or bitter to the point where I want to hurt anyone or get revenge."
He became the 15th inmate from Dallas County since 2001 to be freed by DNA testing.
Dallas has freed more inmates after DNA testing than any other county nationwide, said Natalie Roetzel of the Innocence Project of Texas. Texas leads the country in prisoners freed by DNA testing, with at least 30 wrongfully convicted inmates since 2001.
Mike Ware, who heads the Conviction Integrity Unit in the Dallas County District Attorney's office, said he expects that number to increase.
One of the biggest reasons for the large number of exonerations in Texas is the crime lab used by Dallas County, which accounts for about half the state's DNA cases. Unlike many jurisdictions, the lab used by police and prosecutors retains biological evidence, meaning DNA testing is a viable option for decades-old crimes.
District Attorney Craig Watkins also attributes the exonerations to a past culture of overly aggressive prosecutors seeking convictions at any cost. Watkins has started a program in which law students, supervised by the Innocence Project of Texas, are reviewing about 450 cases in which convicts have requested DNA testing.
Chatman was 20 when the victim, a young woman in her 20s, picked him from a lineup. Chatman said he lived five houses down from the victim for 13 years but never knew her. At the time the woman was assaulted, Chatman said he didn't have any front teeth; he had been certain that feature would set him apart from the real assailant.
"I'm not sure why he ended up on that photo spread to begin with," Ware said.
Chatman, who was convicted of aggravated sexual assault in 1981 and sentenced to 99 years in prison, said his faith kept him from giving up.