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North Carolina Prisoner Exonerated for Rape Collects $9.5 Million Settlement

A North Carolina man who served over 25 years in prison before being exonerated for the rape of an elderly woman has received a $9.5 million settlement.

Timothy Scott Bridges was 23 years old when he was arrested by the Charlotte Police Department for the May 1989 rape of an 83-year-old woman who was confined to a wheelchair. Modine Wise was found the next day, naked and semi-conscious, by her daughter-in-law. She spent three months in a hospital and was later moved to a nursing home.

Other than Ms. Wise’s description that the perpetrator had blondish brown or brown hair, the police had little to go on. Ms. Wise told police she could identify her attacker if shown a picture, but they never gave her a photo lineup during the investigation.

Bridges was arrested on March 27, 1990 for raping and assaulting Ms. Wise. “The only evidence against him at this point were the inconsistent statements of three drug addict informants,” Bridges alleged in his civil rights complaint. At first, the informants said the word on the street was that Bridges or another man had raped Ms. Wise. They then claimed he had offered a confession, but the evidence showed the informants only made that claim after they were offered monetary or other assistance for their testimony.

Ms. Wise died in August 1990 without identifying Bridges as her attacker.

Prior to Bridges’ arrest, evidence from the crime scene pointed to another perpetrator. A bloody palm print did not match him or 50 other suspects. A pack of Salem Lights was found at the scene, but Bridges smoked non-menthol cigarettes. The police had also learned about another suspect who had raped elderly women; that suspect fit the victim’s description, smoked menthol cigarettes, had blood on his clothes and had reportedly bragged in jail that he raped Ms. Wise.

Nonetheless, detective Cheryl Horner never interviewed that suspect or had his clothing tested to match the blood stains to the crime scene. Instead, based solely on the statements from the trio of informants, she had Bridges arrested. Then the pressure was on to create physical evidence.

The first piece was hair evidence. That involved “trace evidence analyst” Elinos Whitlock, who said two hairs from the crime matched Bridges. The prosecution later admitted that Whitlock’s trial testimony “exceeded the limits of science and was false and misleading.”

Because the palm print excluded Bridges, fingerprint analyst Kathleen Ramseur reversed course and said she could not exclude Ms. Wise’s sister, who died after the rape and before trial, as the person who left the print.

Horner also hid exculpatory evidence concerning inconsistent statements by the informants and the incentive offers they received, as well as information about the other suspect.

The totally fabricated testimony by Ramseur, combined with Whitlock’s trial testimony and the informants’ statements, resulted in Bridges’ conviction in 1991. He received a life sentence.

In 2010, North Carolina Prisoner Legal Services and the Innocence Project agreed to take Bridges’ case. They obtained a consent order with the District Attorney’s office based on the hair testimony, and had DNA testing performed that exonerated Bridges. On October 1, 2015, he was released on bond; the charges against him were dismissed on February 16, 2016 and he was later pardoned by Governor Pat McCrory.

Chris Fabricant, with the Innocence Project, said Bridges was “grateful to Governor McCrory for granting him a pardon that will go a long way towards helping him to put this long nightmare to rest. In the year since his release, Mr. Bridges has struggled to put his life back together. While nothing can undo the damage he suffered, the official recognition of his innocence and the compensation he will receive will mean his adjustment will be much easier.”

The $9.5 million settlement in Bridges’ wrongful conviction suit was reached in December 2017; he also received $750,000 in compensation from the state. Bridges, now 50, said he was raped while incarcerated and what he really wanted was an apology from city officials. The settlement agreement did not include an apology. See: Bridges v. City of Charlotte, U.S.D.C. (W.D. NC), Case No. 3:16-cv-00564-GCM. 

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Related legal case

Bridges v. City of Charlotte