Mistaken identity: Man convicted of rape declared innocent after 29 years behind bars

Virginia, USA: An innocent man who spent 29 years behind bars after being convicted of an attempted rape and kidnapping has finally been given his freedom.

Michael McAlister was cleared after a serial rapist who had an uncanny resemblance to the 58-year-old at the time confessed to the 1986 offence.

He was granted an unconditional pardon by Virginia's governor, wiping away the prosecution which he had campaigned against for decades alongside family and friends.

After clearing McAlister, governor Terry McAuliffe said in a written statement: "A number of individuals in the law enforcement community [...] have concluded that this crime was committed by another individual, and that Mr McAlister should be freed to return to his family and his community.

"I have reached the same conclusion, and I have acted in accordance with the law."

Upon being reunited with his sister and elderly mother outside Dillwyn Correctional Centre, McAlister said that the governor was a 'special man' for giving him his freedom.

He told reporters: "It’s a great day. It’s a wonderful day. Governor McAuliffe, he’s a special man for being brave enough to do this."

McAlister added that his thoughts were with the victim of the attack.

He said: "It wasn’t her fault, and I don’t hold any hard feelings at all toward her. I hope [the attacker] can deal with his issues as best he can."

McAlister was 29 and working as a carpenter when he was identified by the victim in court.

The victim, a 22-year-old mum, was assaulted in the laundry room of an apartment complex on February 23, 1986.

But she was able to partially pull her attacker's stocking mask off during the attack, and caught a glimpse of his face.

At the time, McAlister was known by police following a string of alcohol-related incidents of public indecency.

He was misidentified after a police sketch resembled his face, which helped lead to his wrongful conviction.

Shawn Armbrust, executive director of the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project, and James Bensfield and Jonathan Kossak of the Miller & Chevalier law firm, said in a joint statement: "We are thrilled that the governor did the right thing and finally ended this nightmare."

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