Richmond prosecutor says convicted sex offender is innocent

Richmond prosecutor says convicted sex offender is innocent

HENRICO, VA (WWBT) - A convicted sex offender who has maintained his innocence for decades is hoping Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe will step in and grant him a pardon.

Michael McAlister has been in prison for almost 30 years.

The current Richmond Commonwealth's Attorney Michael Herring has submitted a letter on McAlister's behalf saying he thinks the inmate is innocent. In fact the very people who put McAlister in prison now believe he did not commit the crime. And if something is not done now, McAlister will remain there because of a Virginia law that allows civil commitment for sexual predators.

McAlister was a young father of two little girls when he was convicted of kidnapping and attempted rape -- a crime he says he did not commit.

He has his family's full support. "He felt the injustice, he was living the injustice everyday," says his sister Denise Haas.

A team dedicated to proving his innocence is hoping for a full pardon by McAuliffe. In fact, the petition says "...not a single person in law enforcement with knowledge of the case believes he committed" the crime. "When you've got a prosecuting attorney and you've got the detective saying, 'We do not believe this is the man any longer,' Why? Why keep in innocent man in prison?" says Haas.

Thirty years ago, a woman was attacked in a laundry room at an apartment complex on Richmond's southside. McAlister was convicted of a misdemeanor at the time, and that put him on police radar. His family says he was no angel, as he was battling an alcohol and drug addiction, but he would never intentionally hurt another person. Now, according to the petition for pardon, investigators say Norman Bruce Derr is responsible, not McAlister. Derr is a convicted serial rapist who terrorized Virginia during that time. Side by side, the men share physical similarities. The victim identified McAlister as her attacker through a photo line up which did not originally include Derr and has now been described as "highly suggestive and therefore, improper."

For years, his family has maintained McAlister was sleeping at home where he lived with his mother. "We don't hold any anger towards the victim, the family really holds no anger," says Haas.

McAlister's sister says they are just disappointed because the Virginia parole board has already denied her brother before and she's afraid it will happen again despite the facts. There is no DNA evidence in the case. Haas is hoping the governor will hear her plea.

"I would just ask him please look at this case with an open mind and an open heart and I will be praying for him," says Haas. "I will pray that he makes the decision that he can live with and that we can hopefully live with."

The Mid Atlantic Innocence Project is working on this case.

Copyright 2015 WWBT NBC12. All rights reserved