Man says wrongful conviction in 1978 rape case 'a nightmare'

Published: Sep. 4, 2012 at 2:43 AM EDT|Updated: Sep. 9, 2012 at 3:11 AM EDT
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WILLIAMSBURG, VA (WWBT) - Bennett Barbour was convicted in Williamsburg decades ago for the rape of a William and Mary college student at an off-campus apartment.

He served more than four years for the crime, though he proclaimed for decades he didn't commit. Finally, the courts agree.

Recent DNA tests on the old evidence point to someone else for the crime. The state issued Barbour a Writ of Innocence in May, which basically means the state agrees that he is innocent and he has been exonerated of the crime.

Barbour has kept records of every detail of the case and every story ever reported, but he doesn't need them for reference. He remembers every moment and every decision that made him a convicted felon and changed his life forever.

"Everything I was supposed to be a part of I couldn't do, because they took it away from me," said Barbour.

Today, Barbour is frail, suffering from brittle bone disease. But in 1978, life was just starting to go right. He was a newlywed with a baby on the way. On Valentine's Day detectives arrested him, claiming a student had been raped at gunpoint and had picked his picture out of a book of mug shots as the man who did it.

"I don't know this girl," said Barbour. "I never seen this young lady. I have no reason to rape no woman."

But his mug shot was in the detectives' book, because he had a recent minor burglary charge. And his was the face she chose as the man who raped her.

Barbour reportedly had several alibis that day, but said he still found himself in court before a jury and soon after that was convicted, set to serve 10 years.

"This is rape here and I know I ain't' do it," said Barbour. "It's past scary. It's a nightmare."

Barbour's wife left him and his daughter was born while he was behind bars. He maintained his innocence throughout the years, but spent 4 and a half years in jail before getting out on parole. As a convicted felon, he lost several rights and his reputation was tarnished.

For decades after that conviction, Barbour proclaimed his innocence but still had a rape conviction to his name.

"It's not fair, it's not right to take a human being's life and just dismiss it like he's nothing, you know?" Barbour asked. "I'm somebody. I'm Bennett Stanley Barbour and I'm very proud of my name and my family. "

Now, with his Writ of Innocence, Barbour finally feels like he has that pride back. But he says it didn't come without tremendous cost.

"Y'all took my life," said Barbour of the court system. "It ain't about the money. My life. My name. My family. Y'all took all of this away for something I didn't do."

Barbour's bone disease problems have escalated. He knows he doesn't have a lot of time left. But, he recently got a voter registration card in the mail and says he can't wait to vote for the first time in a Presidential election.

Copyright 2012 WWBT NBC12.  All rights reserved.