DNA tests free man from prison
2002-02-27   By Bob Doucette  The Oklahoman

    LEXINGTON -- DNA testing proved what Arvin C. McGee Jr. knew all along. He didn't do it. McGee, convicted of rape, robbery, kidnapping and forcible sodomy 13 years ago, was exonerated by a series of DNA tests done on semen samples from his case. On Tuesday, he walked out of the Joseph Harp Correctional Center a free man. "When I said I was innocent 14 years ago, no one believed me," McGee said. "I knew this day was coming 14 years ago." McGee's initial comments came with long pauses and quiet assurances from his relatives. He often looked down, gathering his thoughts. And then he thanked his family, attorneys and even Tulsa County prosecutors. But first, he thanked God. "I believe in prayer," he said. "I believe in a higher calling than myself." The longer he spoke, however, the more forceful his message became. He spoke somberly, chastising a system that wrongfully convicted him while at the same time admitting he was sad to leave the cell mates he'd befriended while behind bars. "I'm going to miss that brotherhood." McGee's 1989 conviction unraveled when the Oklahoma Indigent Defense System tested a semen sample taken from a rape kit. The tests, performed by a Texas
laboratory, showed the semen did not match McGee's DNA profile -- excluding him as the attacker. Tulsa County prosecutors decided to test other semen evidence from the rape kit and came to the same conclusion. After getting their test results back from the Tulsa police crime lab Tuesday, prosecutors
rushed to get a court order to free McGee from prison. "The results we have confirm what the Texas lab had," said Steve Sewell, Tulsa County assistant district attorney. "We've said all along that if the results showed Mr. McGee didn't do the crime, we would seek his release." Within a few hours of getting the release order, McGee walked away from prison and into freedom. He, his family and his lawyers then went to a Norman restaurant for some fried chicken -- a special request of McGee's. But behind visible affection shown toward his family and the courtesy shown to a flock of media gathered to witness his freedom, McGee's anger was apparent. "I wouldn't be here if the DA wasn't so vindictive," he said. "Calling me 'that thing.' Saying I did that thing." McGee was convicted of a brutal 1987 sexual assault and kidnapping of a Tulsa woman. The attacker bound a 20-year-old laundry worker, took here to a secluded area and raped her. McGee was tried three times in the crimes. The first trial ended in a mistrial while the second ended with a hung jury. In his third trial, McGee was found guilty and sentenced to 365 years in prison. That sentence was later reduced to 298 years. DNA testing was unavailable when he was tried. Instead, Tulsa police used semen evidence they claimed fit McGee's profile. But that profile also
included 19 percent of all black men. McGee's attorneys claimed other parts of the case against him were shaky. The victim told police a man grabbed her from behind, tied her up and locked her in a rest room at the coin-operated laundry where she worked. She said the man picked her up over his shoulders,
put her in a car and drove her to a wooded area where he raped her. In photo lineups two months after the attack, she picked another man as her attacker. Two months after that, she took "10 or 15 minutes" to pick McGee as the man who assaulted her. McGee's attorneys also claimed McGee wasn't physically
able to carry out the attack. A severe groin injury and subsequent surgery would have "severely hampered" McGee's ability to pick up the woman and rape her. That wasn't known until recently. Physical descriptions of the attacker, his hair style and his clothing also changed during police interviews and at trial, McGee's attorneys said. McGee has maintained his innocence and has been a well-behaved prisoner. He was cited with one misconduct in 1990 for manufacturing an intoxicant but nothing else since, Corrections Department spokesman Jerry Massie said. McGee's other convictions were for possession of a stolen credit card and possession of a stolen vehicle, Corrections Department records show. McGee called his prison experience "a nightmare" and resented the fact he was forced to enter a sex offender program that made him admit to a crime he didn't commit. "When you have a rape charge, that's the worst thing you can be in prison," he said. During his incarceration, he befriended former inmate Jeff Pierce, who was released from the same prison after DNA evidence cleared him of a rape
conviction. "Me and Jeff Pierce got close," McGee said. "When he got his release, he said it's not over. He gave me that faith." Nine of McGee's family members greeted him at his release. His mother, Mary McGee, was so overcome by emotion that she nearly passed out in front of a half dozen TV cameras and several reporters. "I don't know what happened," she said. "I felt my knees go out and I was short of breath." Now that he's free, McGee admonished people not to disregard other inmates' claims of innocence. "There's a lot of guys in this yard that are like me. Don't be so quick to judge." Tulsa authorities now must try to find the real attacker. Prosecutors said they would compare their DNA evidence with national crime database records to see if they can find a match. McGee was the third
Oklahoma inmate in less than a year to be freed by DNA testing. In May, Pierce was released. In October, Albert Wesley Brown was freed after DNA tests showed forensic evidence used in his trial could not be linked to the 1981 murder of which he was convicted. Brown could be retried. On Tuesday,
the focus was on McGee and his grateful family. "All I can say is I thank God," said Tonya Clardy, McGee's sister. "Our prayers have been answered."