CHESAPEAKE, Va. (WVEC) -- A 59-year-old Chesapeake man has been exonerated after being convicted of rape more than 40 years ago.
"I wasn't going to give up… nope," said Roy L. Watford III.
At the age of 18, a junior in high school, Watford was charged with raping a 12-year-old girl in Portsmouth. He had no prior record.
“Then one day someone came to my house and told my grandfather that I was wanted,” Watford said. "I came in and you know let them know that I know I didn't do it, but I went in and went through the process."
Watford said at the time of the incident he was living with his grandfather.
"My grandfather told me to plead guilty because he didn't want to see me do that time,” he said,
So, he pleaded guilty and avoided jail, but paid the price because the rape conviction followed him every time he applied for a job or a place to live.
His attorney, Jon Sheldon, said Watford had the cards stacked against him.
"When he started high school, schools were still segregated," Sheldon said. "He [Watford] was low functioning, he had a low IQ… but he was a well-behaved man."
Watford and his two brothers were arrested for the raped, but one of Watford’s brothers was found “not innocent” in a juvenile court, and charges were dropped against the other brother.
In 2010, Watford’s brother's DNA did not match the biological evidence in the case.
"The department of forensic sciences randomly picked his (Watford’s Brother’s) case among others," said Sheldon.
That’s when Watford was contacted by Sheldon and had his own DNA tested, which did not match the alleged suspect.
"The victim in this case, who initially said she wouldn't show up to court and wouldn't testify, but then did and said that she knew Roy Watford and she had never seen him at the scene of the crime," said Sheldon.
That's when the trial judge filed a petition for innocence and the whole time the Attorney General opposed it.
Now, this Thursday is the first time in Virginia History the state supreme court has exonerated a man.
"It's a day I never thought I would see, but it came," said Watford.
Sheldon said it’s a large part because of a state law changed after Watford was convicted, in 2013, that changed the word 'could' to 'would.
He said ‘could’ required people like Roy to prove his innocence beyond reasonable doubt. However, ‘would’ means no reasonable juror would have found him guilty.