The final chapter in the story of a man wrongly convicted of raping a College of William and Mary student 36 years ago may be written in Williamsburg Circuit Court in the next day or two.
In 2010, DNA proved Bennett S. Barbour innocent of the Feb. 7, 1978, rape that sent the then-22-year-old newlywed to prison for 4½ years, ending his marriage and staining his name.
Barbour was exonerated in 2012 and died of cancer in 2013 at age 57. In one of the case’s many twists, he was able to vote for the first and last time in his life in 2012 thanks to help from a former governor who is now himself a felon.
The same DNA testing that cleared Barbour implicated James Moses Glass Jr., 58, a convicted rapist set to be tried starting today on abduction, rape and firearm charges for the attack on the then 19-year-old woman in an off-campus apartment.
“That’s the missing piece to Bennett’s story, his life” Maureen Barbour, one of Barbour’s sisters, said Monday. In interviews before his death, Barbour said he held no ill will toward the woman who misidentified him or Glass — though he wanted to see Glass prosecuted.
So does his sister and other siblings who may attend the two-day trial. Maureen Barbour has assembled a portfolio of news stories about her brother’s case. “The only thing I need now is this missing piece of Mr. Glass to finalize Bennett’s last wishes.”
Glass’ trial is the result of a post-conviction DNA testing project by the Virginia Department of Forensic Science begun in 2005 and aimed at identifying people wrongly convicted of crimes decades ago — before DNA testing was available.
The effort has resulted in 11 exonerations — 10 of them convictions caused by victims misidentifying assailants. The project has also led to the identification of such new suspects as Glass.
Glass, convicted of a Dec. 23, 1978, rape in nearby York County, served 30 years of a 56-year sentence and was out of prison in 2010 when the DNA testing led to his arrest for the Williamsburg attack.
The same judge, the late Russell M. Carneal, presided over Barbour’s trial in Williamsburg and Glass’ trial in York County more than three decades ago. Each man took the stand and denied guilt, and each had alibis supported by family and other witnesses.
In Glass’ case the judge, and in Barbour’s case the jury, sided with identifications made by the victims.
Bennett Barbour was born with a serious medical condition, brittle bone disease. As a result, Maureen Barbour said her late father was strict with Bennett, who always wanted to prove himself.
He was arrested Feb. 15, 1978, not long after he was married and shortly after the Williamsburg victim mistakenly identified him as her attacker from a mug shot. When he was charged with the rape, Barbour’s sister said it hit the family like a bolt of lightning.
Barbour’s marriage ended after he went to prison and after his release he got on with his life while always maintaining he was innocent of the rape.
In 2009 his older brother, Spencer Barbour Jr., drowned while the two of them were fishing from a small boat in the James River.
The boat struck a submerged piling throwing Spencer into the water, said Maureen Barbour.
“Bennett was holding on for dear life in the boat when my brother Spencer drowned,” Barbour said. “He took it real hard. It was really terrible.”
In January 2012, Jon Sheldon, a volunteer lawyer, tracked Bennett Barbour down with the good news that DNA testing cleared him of the crime.
“It was the happiest day of his life,” said his sister. “Everything fell into place for him.”
With the help of lawyers at the Innocence Project Clinic at the University of Virginia School of Law and the support of Williamsburg Commonwealth’s Attorney Nate Green, Barbour won a writ of actual innocence from the Virginia Supreme Court later that year.
His name cleared, Barbour, near death from bone cancer, hoped to vote for the first time in his life but was unable to because of an unrelated, non-violent felony conviction.
Former Gov. Bob McDonnell — convicted last month in a federal corruption trial — and former Secretary of the Commonwealth Janet Kelly and volunteers stepped in to help and Barbour had the right restored in time to vote Nov. 6, 2012.
Barbour died Jan. 10, 2013. After his death, the General Assembly awarded his survivors $162,527 in compensation for the wrongful imprisonment.
He is buried in the Parrish Hill Baptist Church cemetery in rural Charles City, not far from where he was born in Ruthville and next to graves of his parents, Spencer and Dorothy Barbour, and his brother .
Barbour’s mother, who also died last year, lived to see her son cleared of the rape, but Barbour said he regretted that their father, who died in 2008, did not.
“That was one of his dreams, to have Bennett cleared,” said Maureen Barbour. Bennett, she said, “wanted Daddy to respect him and to know that he was innocent.”
“That would have put a big smile on Daddy’s face, but now they’re all smiling together,” she said, standing near their graves Tuesday.
She said her brother had one other regret when he died. “He knew he didn’t rape her, but he just wanted to hear her say, ‘I apologize, I picked the wrong man.’ That’s all he wanted,’ ” Maureen Barbour said.
She said Bennett recognized that they were both victims of the same assailant.
“He just wanted an apology,” she said. “There was no hard feelings.”