The Slatest

Virginia Finally Pardoned an Innocent Man

Michael Kenneth McAlister in 1986.
Michael Kenneth McAlister in 1986.

Photos courtesy Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe just granted an absolute pardon to Michael Kenneth McAlister, a convicted sex offender who spent 29 years in prison for a crime he did not commit, and who then faced indefinite civil commitment—even after his release date—because of a Virginia statute that keeps “sexual predators” in prison long after their sentences have been served. McAlister, who bore a striking physical resemblance to a known serial rapist, was convicted based on the testimony of a single witness.

In his letter, McAuliffe writes, “Today I am issuing an absolute pardon for Michael Kenneth McAlister. My staff and I have carefully and thoroughly reviewed the documentation in this case and concluded that a pardon is appropriate in light of the overwhelming evidence, including a recent confession by another individual, pointing to Mr. McAlister’s actual innocence of the crime for which he was convicted.”

Noting that many of the people who originally tried the case became persuaded that McAlister had been wrongly convicted, the governor concludes his written statement with the observation that “the integrity of our justice system depends on the guarantee of a fair trial that is informed by all available evidence. Protecting that integrity requires quick action in the event that new evidence comes to light.”

The evidence of McAlister’s innocence came to light more than 20 years ago. In 1993 the prosecutor and investigator in his case both testified that they believed the wrong man had been convicted.