Va. bill to help wrongly accused heads to gov.

Posted at 6:52 PM, Feb 22, 2013
and last updated 2013-02-22 19:25:38-05

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) -- Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli's bill to make it easier for the wrongly convicted to prove their innocence is moving forward.

The Virginia Senate passed 37-2 the bill Friday that will allow a person who's wrongfully convicted to bring up new evidence to prove their innocence even beyond the 21-day limit after their conviction.

One Richmond man who knows all to well what's it's like to be wrongfully convicted tells CBS 6 News he's thrilled about the bill that amends the Virginia Writ of Actual Innocence law.

Thomas Haynesworth who spent twenty-seven years in prison for a series of rapes that DNA proved he didn't commit says this will bring hope to many inmates.  He says hope is what he leaned on to get him through those tough years in prison.

Haynesworth said his mother and sisters always believed in him. It took a while for his true story to get out. After many years, and with a lot of legal help, Haynesworth was freed and fully exonerated.

"Once you get that cloud lifted and the convictions are gone and you are with your loved ones, you're enjoying life. Then you don't look at the past, you look at what God's got for you, what  the future holds for you," Haynesworth explained.

At times that exoneration seemed impossible to attain, but now Haynesworth is thrilled to learn others who are wrongfully convicted might have an easier time bringing up new evidence to prove their innocence.

The law allows the Attorney General to give the court evidence of a person's innocence, not just guilt which is the way the law is currently written. It also allows a person to bring up new evidence beyond the current 21 day limit after a conviction.

Haynesworth, who now works for Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, says he is equally impressed that his boss wrote the bill for these changes.

It's something he thinks will bring hope to those who are now trapped in a situation he knows all too well.

"What Ken Cuccinelli has done is a fantastic thing.. It's giving them hope and getting rid of that 21 day rule. I want to say keep applying yourself, and keep going to those resources that will help you and know that there are people out here who want to fight for you," Haynesworth said.

Both the House of Delegates and the Senate passed the law. The legislation now goes to Gov. McDonnell for his signature.