DNA evidence leads to new suspect in 1982 rape case
By Christine VanTimmeren
NORMAN — There is new information in a 32-year-old rape case out of Norman. After the wrong man went to jail for 14 years, police think they've finally found the right suspect.At the time of Thomas Webb's wrongful conviction, DNA analysis wasn't available. When it finally was, Webb's family jumped at it. But Norman Police say the identity of the suspect was actually known back in 2006. Webb says it makes him wonder why the man wasn't arrested then."I lost 14 years of my prime life because of something I didn't do," said Webb.Webb says he grateful he has another shot at life. At 22-years-old he was sentenced to 60 years in prison for raping a 19-year-old woman from Norman. He was innocent."I wracked my brain about why she would point me out, you know, accuse me of this," Webb said.Webb says the victim picked him out of a lineup. A lineup that never included the right guy.14 years later, justice came in the form of DNA evidence. Webb was released in 1996."A conviction, acquittal and now new charges 32 years later. It's pretty amazing," said Capt. Tom Easley from the Norman Police Department.Capt. Easley says last Friday an arrest warrant was issued for Gilbert Harris from Biloxi, Mississippi. Harris is charged with rape and forcible sodomy in the 1982 case. But as Webb found out, that evidence was actually found in 2006 through the national DNA database called CODIS."We, as in the Norman Police Department, never got or received notification of this 2006 hit on Mr. Harris," said Capt. Easley.The 2006 CODIS hit was sent to OSBI. Officials there say they notified Norman investigators as required. How the information got lost is something neither agency knows the answer to. Now that it's out, Webb wants justice to be served, and he prays every day for those wrongly accused like him."There's people that went to death row innocent," Webb said. "They didn't have DNA and their stories have never been told."The statute of limitations for rape in Oklahoma is 12 years. Norman Police think that because Harris left the state during those years, the case may be valid. Police in Biloxi are still looking for Harris.Because of the incident with the 2006 DNA evidence, OSBI has changed it's practices, and notice of DNA information must be sent to the head of any agency as well as discussed over the phone. The Norman Police Department says better communication is needed between police departments, district attorney's offices and other agencies.
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