Innocent Man Walks Free After Fourteen Years of Wrongful Incarceration
Prosecutors drop murder and attempted rape charges against Chad Heins after DNA testing on a trifecta of evidence found on the victim proves that an unknown man committed these crimes
On Tuesday December 4, 2007, at the Fourth Judicial Circuit Court in Jacksonville, Florida, the Fourth Circuit State Attorney officially dropped the murder and attempted rape charges against Chad Heins in light of results of DNA testing which conclusively prove his innocence. After fourteen years of enduring the torture of wrongful incarceration and the humiliation of being convicted of murdering his sister-in-law, Tina Heins, Chad Heins gained his freedom in time to return to his family in Wisconsin for Christmas.
Jenny Greenberg, Policy Director of the Innocence Project of Florida (IPF) and co-counsel on the case stated, “The primary thing that helped Chad survive his wrongful incarceration was his dignity in knowing that he would one day be vindicated of his sister-in-law’s murder. After four long years since he received his DNA results proving his innocence and fourteen years of imprisonment as an innocent man, Chad Heins can finally walk free with that dignity intact.”
Chad sought assistance from the Innocence Project in 2003. Through the collaborative efforts of the Innocence Projects of New York and Florida, and attorneys at Holland and Knight, Chad was subsequently granted court-ordered DNA testing. This testing on crucial items in the case demonstrated that debris under Tina Heins’ fingernails, a pubic hair found on her body and, most recently, semen found on her bed sheets came from the same still-unknown perpetrator. None of the evidence matched Chad or Tina’s husband, Jeremy. In fact there was no biological trace of Chad Hein’s presence anywhere in Tina’s bedroom (where she was murdered), including on her body or on the sheets. Neither Mr. Heins’ body nor clothing carried any evidence, even microscopic, of having committed this crime.
In June 2007, Circuit Judge L. Page Haddock vacated Heins’ convictions and sentences and granted him a new trial. In light of this clear evidence of innocence, State Attorney Harry Shorstein has now elected not to seek any further prosecution of Chad Heins, making him a free man. Jacksonville attorneys Robert Link and Robert Beckham, as well as attorneys at IPF, were prepared to go to trial to vindicate Chad Heins before Shorstein’s decision.
Seth Miller, IPF’s Executive Director and co-counsel on this case stated, “Harry Shorstein should be commended for demonstrating that truth and justice are far more virtuous than preserving convictions, especially false ones, at all costs. Although the exoneration of Chad Heins was a long time coming, Harry Shorstein’s eventual actions here today should serve as an example to all those prosecutors in Florida who will at some point face the prospect of freeing an individual who they once thought was guilty, where advancements in science have now proven otherwise.”
Chad Heins, now 33-years-old, is the ninth DNA exoneration in Florida and the 210th DNA exoneration nationwide.