On February 23, 1988, a man broke into the home of an 81 year old woman in Laurinburg, North Carolina and raped her, stealing money from her purse before leaving through the back door. The woman was stabbed in the left shoulder by a letter opener and suffered abrasions to her face. She described the attack in detail to the police, but she had only seen the perpetrator briefly by the light of a pen light he carried. The perpetrator covered her head with a comforter before raping her.
Police collected a rape kit from the victim in hopes of obtaining the rapist’s DNA, but at the time the technology was not available to produce an adequate profile.
About a week later, the police questioned Edward McInnis based on a tip from an unnamed informant who told them that Edward had confessed to the crime. Edward was 27 years old and had prior run-ins with the law. With this information, the police had found the focus of their investigation. Edward, however, denied any involvement in the crime and offered a detailed alibi that was corroborated by several family members. Later, without his attorney present, the police interrogated Edward and told him that he could receive the death penalty. During the interrogation, Edward confessed to the police, but his version of events did not match the victim’s or the physical evidence. He was unable to describe the attack and said simply that he raped her. Afraid that he would receive the death penalty if he went to trial, Edward pled guilty to first degree rape, first degree burglary, and armed robbery on October 25, 1988, and received a sentence of life plus 20 years.
In 2001, Edward wrote to the N.C. Center on Actual Innocence requesting assistance in overturning his conviction. The Center investigated his case and discovered that the only potential avenue for his release required finding the physical evidence collected from the victim and conducting DNA testing. The Center repeatedly attempted to locate the rape kit, but each time was told by the Laurinburg Police Department that it could not be found and had most likely been destroyed. In 2010, the police department and the Scotland County District Attorney’s office conducted three separate searches for the evidence and the District Attorney confirmed that the physical evidence no longer existed and provided a detailed timeline of the 2001 destruction of the evidence.
After further investigation, which included interviewing an alternate suspect, in 2014, the Center recommended that Edward apply with the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission, with the hope that the Commission would use its statutory authority to conduct an independent search. Initially, the Laurinburg Police Department told the Commission that the evidence could not be found. Upon request by the Commission to conduct its own search, however, the rape kit was miraculously located. The evidence was submitted for DNA testing and the male profile developed conclusively excluded Edward McInnis as the perpetrator of the rape.
Upon learning of the results, District Attorney Kristy Newton sought dismissal of the charges against Edward and on August 10, 2015, Judge Tonya T. Wallace vacated the verdict and Edward was released from prison. After his release the Center began working to secure a gubernatorial Pardon of Innocence from Governor Pat McCrory, which was granted on May 19, 2016. Edward served 27 years in prison for a crime he did not commit.