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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Man imprisoned 17 years freed after DNA test

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- A man who spent more than 17 years in prison on a charge of raping a girl was freed Monday after a lab re-examining cases across Ohio showed that his DNA profile didn't match evidence from the crime scene.

Robert McClendon, 52, was released by Franklin County Common Pleas Judge Charles Schneider, who cited the DNA test.

"You know, you go through times where you feel it might not happen, but you never, ever give up hope," McClendon said after his release. "You don't ever use the word, 'never happen.' It's not healthy."

Jennifer Bergeron, a lawyer with the Ohio Innocence Project, said she expects prosecutors to formally drop charges against McClendon within the next two weeks.

"To be in prison for 18 years for something you didn't do and then know you are going to walk out of court a free man, that's a lot to take in in one day," Bergeron said.

Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O'Brien said he didn't think the case would go to a new trial.

McClendon planned to go to the home of a relative in Columbus on Monday to celebrate his release at a dinner with about 50 supporters, friends and relatives, said Mark Godsey, faculty director of the Innocence Project.

McClendon said he eventually wants to get a good job, maybe start a business and, if he's needed, speak publicly about DNA testing.

"This is not just about me," he said. "I believe that there are others in prison like me, and then there are others in prison who are guilty. You've got to give it a chance to work."

Prosecutors had said McClendon took a 10-year-old relative from her backyard, blindfolded her, drove her to a house and raped her. The victim reported the rape the next day and was taken to a hospital.

McClendon, who denied raping the girl, was convicted in 1991 largely on the victim's testimony, Bergeron said. There was no physical evidence to tie him to the crime, she said.

McClendon, who was denied parole in 2007, previously was convicted in the 1970s of attempted corruption of a minor for having sex with a 15-year-old girl when he was 19. [Mark Godsey]

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