One year ago today, Jules Letemps was exonerated after 27 years in prison.
Although he was exonerated of a crime he did not commit, he is still not free.
On May 29th, 1989, a young woman on her way to work was waiting for a bus in Orlando, Florida. A man had approached her, placed a metal object to her neck, and led her towards some bushes where he forced her to remove her clothing and repeatedly sexually assaulted her. She was able to flee her attacker, obtain help from a nearby resident, and contact the police. Once home, the victim showered and called her cousin. Together, they went back to the location of the crime to search for her assailant. This was when the victim spotted Jules Letemps, then 26, on his way to work. She immediately summoned an officer who arrested Jules. He attempted to tell the officer that he was on his way to the Toyota dealership where he was employed as a maintenance man where he was charged with the task of washing the cars.
Jules was charged with three counts of sexual assault, and one count of kidnapping. His trial was held in Orange County in November of 1989, where the main evidence against him was the victim’s testimony. At trial, a forensic analyst testified that she had examined the robe worn by the victim after the assault, and found a semen stain. She claimed that this stain was so diluted that she could not conclude anything. After a two day trial, where Jules’ defense attorney did not cross-examine any of the police officers who testified for the prosecution, he was sentenced to four consecutive terms of life in prison.
With the help of fellow immigrants, Jules filed numerous post-conviction petitions in the hopes of getting his sentence overturned. All of his attempts were unsuccessful. In 2010, Centurion Ministries began examining his case. His attorney, Paul Casteleiro, found the cassette tapes of various pretrial depositions, one of which was the forensic analyst on the case. In her deposition, she explained to Letempt’s attorney the testing procedures used to analyze the semen stain that was found on the robe the victim had been wearing.
In the deposition, the forensic expert explained that the blood type identified on the robe was O, which matches the blood type of the victim. This should have excluded Jules as the perpetrator because his blood type is B. However, due to the dilution, they could not positively exclude Jules, even though no blood type B was found.
Centurion obtained all notable documents of this forensic expert (lab notes and transcribed deposition) and enlisted a number of experts in serology to review the document. It was concluded that the expert was incorrect in the determination that the semen was too diluted to obtain an exact result, and they also were able to positively exclude Jules as the source of the semen.
Once this information was found, Centurion procured the additional counsel of Seth Miller, Executive Director of the Innocence Project of Florida, and filed a motion for post-conviction relief. The court denied this petition, and the appellate court affirmed. Jules’ lawyer, Castelerio, then filed a federal petition for a writ of habeas corpus, and on July 20th, 2015, Judge Gregory Presnell granted it and ordered a new trial for Jules.
In this new trial, it was ruled that Jules’ trial attorney had provided inadequate defense by failing to investigate the analysis of the forensic expert. The judge determined that the new evidence, combined with Jules’ alibi testimony, raised enough doubt to undermine his conviction and on October 14th, the prosecution dropped their charges.
Usually, when an inmate is exonerated, they are free. However, Jules’ journey is quite different than any other exoneree.
Jules is a Hatian immigrant who came to the United States on “humanitarian parole” in 1981. This is a temporary status granted to those fleeing their country for urgent humanitarian reasons. He had fled Haiti due to political unrest and economic turmoil. Due to a past felony drug charge, immigration officials revoked his parole and planned to try and deport him after he had served his sentence for the wrongful conviction. After 27 years, of wrongful imprisonment, Jules is still waiting to be reunited with his friends and family in Florida. His lawyer, as do many others, believe that permitting his residency here would be proper compensation for the injustice he has suffered.
His next hearing is February 7th; it will likely be months before the court gives a final decision on his deportation.