Gary Dotson (born circa 1957) is an American man who was the first person to be exonerated of a criminal conviction by DNA evidence. In May 1979, he was found guilty and sentenced to 25 to 50 years' imprisonment for rape, and another 25 to 50 years for aggravated kidnapping, the terms to be served concurrently. This conviction was upheld by the appellate court in 1981. In 1985, the accusing witness recanted her testimony, which had been the main evidence against Dotson. He was not exonerated or pardoned at that time, but due to popular belief that he was a victim of a false rape accusation, Dotson went through a series of paroles and re-incarcerations until DNA evidence proved his innocence in 1988. Dotson was subsequently cleared of his conviction.
Gary E. Dotson was a high-school dropout who, at the time of his arrest, was living in Country Club Hills, a modest Chicago suburb, with his mother Barbara and his sister Debbie. After conviction in 1979, the next eight years of his life were spent in prison; another four were spent on legal proceedings which led to charges being dropped in 1988 and a full pardon in 2002.
After his first release from prison in 1985, Dotson married Camille Dardanes, a woman who had come to know him during the hearings following his conviction. In March 1986, under difficult financial circumstances, the couple moved in with Dotson's mother. In January, 1987, they had a daughter, Ashley. The early years of their marriage were complicated by poverty, and by Dotson's unemployment and alcoholism. An August 1987 arrest for domestic violence further complicated Dotson's legal situation in the years to come. Near the end of 1987, Camille requested a divorce. She filed the formal paperwork in April 1989.
At the time, sixteen-year-old Cathleen Crowell Webb made up a rape allegation to explain to her foster parents her pregnancy concerns after having had consensual sex with her boyfriend the previous day. After her 1985 recantation, she described herself as an "emotionally disturbed" foster child and revealed that she had been sexually active since the age of 12. Crowell later admitted her fabrication was based on a scene from a 1974 best-selling bodice ripper romance novel, Sweet Savage Love.
The hoax began the night of July 9, 1977, when a police officer happened upon her standing beside a road not far from the shopping mall in the Chicago suburb of Homewood, where she lived and where she worked in a Long John Silver's seafood restaurant. Her clothing was dirt-stained and in disarray.
Crowell tearfully told the officer that, as she walked across the mall parking lot after work, a car with three young men in it darted toward her. Two of the men jumped out, grabbed her, and threw her into the backseat. One of them climbed in beside her, and the other joined the driver in the front. The man in the back tore her clothes, raped her, and scratched several letters onto her stomach with a broken beer bottle.
Crowell was taken to South Suburban Hospital, where a rape examination was performed. She identified Gary Dotson, according to her, under pressure from police based on the resemblance of his mug shot in the mug book to the composite sketch of an assailant she described. Even though there was no sign on Dotson of the scratches Crowell claimed she inflicted on her assailant and, unlike the smooth-shaven assailant Crowell described, Dotson had a mature mustache, he was arrested.
In July 1979, he was convicted following a trial that included Crowell's identification of him as one of her attackers and false and misleading forensic evidence. The prosecution's forensic expert, who claimed to be doing graduate research at the University of California at Berkeley, had in fact only attended a two day course there. He testified that he had detected type B blood antigens in swabs taken as evidence and that type B comprised only 10% of the population. Dotson was type B so the implication was clear. However, he failed to mention that Crowell herself was type B which made the testimony irrelevant. It was also claimed pubic hair evidence "matched" Dotson although there was no test at the time capable of matching hairs with a source. It would come to light later that the hairs were not even similar to Dotson's. Alibi testimony from four of Dotson's friends that placed him in another part of city at the time of the rape was dismissed by the prosecutor who claimed the fact that there were no inconsistencies in their testimony "proved" they were lying.
Another inconsistency in the case did not come to light until after Crowell's recantation in 1985 when Dotson's new lawyer retained a forensic serologist to look at the trial evidence. Although Crowell claimed she was raped several hours before the hospital examined her, the original forensic testing of the swabs taken in fact indicated the sexual encounter had occurred at least a day earlier.
By 1981, Crowell Webb had become deeply religious. In 1982, Crowell married a high school classmate, David Webb, and they moved to New Hampshire, In 1985 she confessed what she had done to her pastor, but when she tried with his assistance to correct what she had done the prosecutors would not take action. Dotson sought post-judgment relief based on Crowell Webb’s recantation, but the trial court found her recantation to be unbelievable and refused to free him.
The lawyer next contacted the media (leading to the infamous "How about a hug?" moment on the CBS Morning Show). The resulting public sympathy caused the original trial judge Richard L. Samuels to release Dotson on $100,000 bond pending a hearing one week later. At that hearing, Judge Samuels rejected new evidence discrediting the forensic evidence given at the trial, called the recantation less credible than the original testimony and sent Dotson back to prison.
Dotson's attorney also petitioned the Governor of Illinois, James R. Thompson, for clemency on April 19. "Big Jim" Thompson, formerly a federal prosecutor, responded to the media attention by declaring that he personally would oversee three days of public hearings on Crowell Webb's recantation. The hearings lasted three days, from May 10 through May 12, 1985. Twenty-four witnesses were called to testify at the just-opened new State of Illinois Center in Chicago which Thompson had built, and which is now named after him. The sexually graphic proceedings were televised, creating a nationwide crime drama at a time when cameras in the courtroom were unheard of. Viewers were shocked when a "gigantic" projection of Crowell Webb's stained underwear was projected onto a massive screen on the wall, and when she and her boyfriend recited details of their sexual activity. Nearly a quarter-century later, the Thompson Dotson hearings were still described as "circuslike," a description widely used in 1985.
Governor Thompson denied clemency but accommodated the popular view that Dotson was innocent by commuting his sentence to time served. This tarnished the governor's image with the public; if Dotson was innocent, why was he not cleared? And if he were guilty, why was Thompson releasing him? Furthermore, this half-measure put Dotson on parole, which meant that he could be returned to prison without a trial.
On August 2, 1987, Dotson was arrested on a domestic violence charge against his wife after she told police that he had slapped her. He was ordered held without bond on August 27, and — even though his wife refused to cooperate and charges were dropped — Dotson's parole was revoked and his full remaining sentence of 16 years was reinstated. On Christmas Eve 1987, Governor Thompson gave Dotson one last parole. The next day Dotson went with friends to the Zig Zag Lounge in Calumet City. Dotson ordered a sandwich, but objected when it came topped with peppers, which he had not ordered; he refused to pay. The waitress called police and claimed he threw "an unknown object" at her and he was arrested and charged with theft, battery, and disorderly conduct.
The state Department of Corrections put a parole hold on him to prevent his release and scheduled an Illinois Prisoner Review Board hearing for February 17. A few days later, the criminal charges were voluntarily dropped by the State's Attorney's Office after witnesses cast doubt on the waitress's version and she refused to testify under oath. Although the criminal charges had been dropped, the scheduled February 17 Prisoner Review Board hearing went ahead and revoked the parole because, due to his arrest, Dotson had been 48 hours late calling his parole officer. He was released after his six-month technical parole violation had been served.
On August 15, 1988, Governor Thompson and the prosecutors were notified that DNA testing had positively excluded Dotson and positively included Crowell's then-boyfriend, David Bierne, as the source of the semen stain. Nevertheless, the governor stated he would not act without receiving a recommendation from the Prisoner Review Board, which then failed to consider it. The media took up Dotson's case. In May 1989, his lawyer filed a new petition for post-conviction relief, which was accepted for hearing on August 14, 1989. The prosecutors publicly vowed to oppose the petition but later joined the judge in dismissing the original conviction and dropping all charges at the August 14 hearing.
In 1985 Crowell co-wrote a book about the incident called "Forgive Me" and gave Dotson more than $17,000 in proceeds from its sale, keeping nothing for herself except the taxes due on that payment. In return, Dotson promised not to sue her over her false accusation. Dotson used the money to finance the start of his post-prison life, including a trip to Las Vegas to marry Camille. In 1985, Dotson had planned to write his own book with New York author Jeannie Ralston. If written, the book was not published. By April 1989, Camille filed for separation. By fall of 1989, Dotson was working part-time as a construction worker in Illinois and was hoping to register for college classes to become a counselor.
After their 1989 divorce, Camille and their daughter moved to Las Vegas, near Camille's mother, Barbara Kritzalis. Camille's life rapidly became tragic, including work in the sex industry and heavy use of drugs. She spent time in jail, and married a man accused of murder. Her mother took over raising Ashley, born to Camille and Gary Dotson in 1987. Camille disappeared completely in May 1994, and as recently as October 2009, was still listed on a missing-persons website. In 2003, her mother told an interviewer, "She was never clean; even when she was in jail she'd get drugs. It's as if she was off in another world. Is she alive? Do I think I'll ever hear from her? Truthfully, no. But I want closure. I want answers." By 2003, Dotson and his daughter moved back to Illinois.
By the time Dotson was cleared in 1989, Cathleen Crowell Webb had four children and had permanently made her home in New Hampshire, where her husband then worked as a welder and ironworker. Crowell died of breast cancer on May 15, 2008, six years after diagnosis. She had been working part-time as a receptionist at a religious grammar school and as a helper at a local golf course. After her death, her husband David told the press how she felt about recanting:
Once she got saved [in 1981] and came to terms with what she had done to Gary's life, she made the decision to come forward. She had two young children, and she had no idea of how intense an experience it was going to be, but she fully expected to pay more of a price than she actually did. There was a good chance that she might have had to go to jail. She couldn't give Gary back his years, but at that point she did everything she could to make it right.
At the time of Crowell Webb's death in 2008, Dotson was reported to be "living quietly in the far south suburbs of Chicago" and "wanting to stay under the radar now, wanting to put this behind him."
- Litke, James. Gary Dotson trying to adjust to life outside prison, May 9, 1986 Associated Press report. The Ledger of Lakeland, Florida. Accessed October 23, 2009.
- The DNA 200, May 26, 2007. Accessed October 23, 2009.
- Dotson Summary, Northwestern University School of Law. Accessed October 23, 2009.
- Released prisoner gets big welcome, Associated Press report, April 5, 1985 Spokane Chronicle. Accessed October 23, 2009.
- Dotson's woes tied to wife's divorce bid, December 28, 1987. Chicago Sun-Times. Accessed October 23, 2009.
- Jailed for a Rape That Never Happened, Gary Dotson Has His Name Cleared at Last, August 28, 1989. PEOPLE Magazine. Accessed October 23, 2009.
- Shipp, E.R. "Forgive," asks woman in rape disavowal, November 28, 1985, New York Times. Paid archive accessed October 23, 2009. Free version available online at The Ledger of Lakeland, Florida, December 2, 1985.
- Rogers, Rosemary. Sweet Savage Love. Avon: 1974. ASIN B000CBMW4Y ISBN 1-55166-831-9
- Law: Cathy and Gary in Medialand, May 27, 1985. TIME Magazine. Accessed October 23, 2009.
- Roeper, Richard. The sad story of Gary Dotson's ex-wife. August 11, 2003, Chicago Sun-Times. Accessed via NewsBank paid archive October 23, 2009.
- The Gary Dotson Rape Case: In The Name Of Justice, May 23, 2008. CBS News. Accessed October 12, 2009.
- Quintanilla, Ray. CATHLEEN CROWELL WEBB: Figure in rape case helped free inmate. May 21, 2008, Chicago Tribune. Accessed via NewsBank Archives October 23, 2009.
- Case 1063DFNV: Camille Dorothy Dardanes, a/k/a Dotson, Diaz, DOE Network website. Accessed October 23, 2009.
- Cathleen Crowell Webb dies at 46 Chicago Tribune May 20, 2008
- Golab, Art. Recanted rape allegation in '85 - She made up story at 16, sending Gary Dotson to prison for 8 years. May 20, 2008, Chicago Sun-Times. Accessed via NewsBank Archives October 23, 2009.
- Woman who lied about rape dies, May 20, 2008. ABC Local News, WLS-TV, Chicago. Accessed October 23, 2009.
- CrimeTrac DNA History archived site from August 20, 2006
- Northwestern University School of Law: The rape that wasn't — the first DNA exoneration in Illinois: Summary
- Opposing verdicts in the Webb/Dotson rape case: Legal vs. news constructions contemporary news bibliography
- Post-Conviction Serological Report (1985) and other forensic reports related to Dotson case
- The Innocence Project: Gary Dotson including photograph
- Webb, Cathleen Crowell. Forgive Me. ISBN 0-8007-1462-8