After Innocence: Exoneration in America
12:30 pm
Tue June 11, 2013

After Innocence: What It's Like To Spend 26 Years Behind Bars, Innocent

Johnnie Lindsey was exonerated after 26 years in prison.
Johnnie Lindsey was exonerated after 26 years in prison.
Credit David Persoff

In 1981, a 27-year-old white woman was riding her bike when she was attacked and raped by a shirtless African American man. A rape kit was collected, and a line-up of potential perpetrators was assembled for the victim to review, but she did not identify anyone. A year later, the police mailed her six photos from a new line-up. There were two men without shirts. The victim picked out Johnnie Lindsey, one of the shirtless men, as the perpetrator, and in 1983 he was charged with the crime.

Lindsey was 30 years old. He worked at a commercial laundry business and he’d never had any previous convictions. At the time of the crime, he was at work, which his time card showed.  His boss testified that Lindsey was working as the only pants-presser that day, and that without him the business would have had to close. Despite the alibi, the jury found Lindsey guilty, and the judge sentenced him to life in prison.

“It’s her word against mine,” Lindsey said in an interview with WUNC. “But the things they’re sayin’ didn’t take place. I was so furious. As far as I’m concerned that’s a racial move because I was black.”

Lindsey watched decades pass in prison. He had a daughter who was born right after he was incarcerated. He never got to see her.

“I was so furious, at one point I felt like right now, being locked up might be the safest place for me,” he said. 

In 2001, Texas passed a law granting post-conviction DNA testing. Lindsey started to write letters to the court, asking them to test the evidence of the rape kit. After six years (and a new District Judge), he finally received a response. When the rape kit was tested, the DNA did not match Lindsey’s, and in 2008, after 26 years behind bars, he was released from prison at age 56. A year later, he was officially exonerated.

"What happened to me should have never happened to me." -- Johnnie Lindsey

Unlike many other exonerees, Lindsey has received full compensation ($1.8 million) from the state.

“What happened to me should have never happened to me,” Lindsey said.

There have been over 50 exonerations in Dallas County. Lindsey was the 19th exonerated there based on DNA evidence. Lindsey now serves as a board member for the Exonerated Brothers of Texas, an organization providing support to exonerees through social work, counseling services, education and vocational training.

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