Freed man wrongly imprisoned for 19 years pleads guilty in gun, drug case

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Thomas Doswell

PITTSBURGH (AP) — A man wrongly incarcerated for 19 years before a DNA test exonerated him of a 1986 rape could be headed back to prison on gun and drug charges.

Thomas Doswell, 54, has pleaded guilty to illegally possessing marijuana, crack cocaine and a gun in August.

Police found the gun and drugs when they stopped Doswell, who was wanted as a material witness to a murder. Doswell, of Pittsburgh, isn’t permitted to own a gun because of a 30-year-old robbery conviction.

Under sentencing guidelines, Doswell could get three to six years in prison when he’s sentenced Jan. 2. But Doswell’s attorney plans to ask for house arrest based on the years Doswell has already wrongly spent in prison, among other factors.

“I don’t know how the judge can ignore it,” defense attorney James DePasquale said.

Doswell was freed from prison in August 2005 after the DNA test showed someone else had raped his accuser.

Doswell sued the city and won $3.8 million after claiming a photo lineup was tainted because his mug shot was marked with an “R” when the accuser identified him. At that time, police routinely marked rape suspects’ pictures with that letter, and the picture of Doswell, who had a prior rape arrest but not a conviction, was the only one in the photo lineup with such a mark.

Doswell was sentenced to 13 to 26 years in prison and was denied parole four times because he refused to accept responsibility for the crime.

He was freed after he obtained a court-ordered DNA test once the Innocence Project at the Benjamin N. Cardoza School of Law at Yeshiva University in New York took up his cause.

Since then, Doswell has had several other scrapes with the law, though this attorney said three of those cases involved charges that stemmed from false claims by his ex-girlfriend and were later dismissed.

“He doesn’t want to go back to prison,” the attorney said. “Nobody does. And he doesn’t miss prison. I just think he has difficulty making the right choices.”

Doswell also pleaded guilty to unlawful restraint and reckless endangerment in September 2007, after police accused him of speeding off with a 17-year-old girl he’d picked up at a bus stop. He was sentenced to two years’ probation and 300 hours of community service.

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