Convicting the Innocent
DNA Exonerations Database

Ronald Cotton

First Name Ronald
Last NameCotton
Year of Conviction1985
Year of Exoneration1995
Testing inculpated culpritCold Hit
State of ConvictionNorth Carolina
Trial, Bench Trial, or Guilty Plea2 Trials
Type of CrimeRape
Death SentenceNo
Life / LWOP sentenceLife
Gender of ExonereeMale
Race of exonereeBlack
JuvenileNo
Type of Innocence Defense
  • Alibi
  • Third Party Guilt
Description / Quotes from Testimony Concerning Defense

● Nine witnesses testified that defendant was home at the time of the crime. ● As evidence supporting third party guilt, witness testified that man fitting description of perpetrator worked across the street from the gym where victim worked.

Did the defendant testify at trial?Yes
Quotes from Exoneree Testimony

He testified only in his second trial, for which I was unable to obtain a transcript. He describes testifying in an interview with Frontline: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/fron tline/shows/dna/interviews/cotton.html

Types of evidence at trial
  • Eyewitness
  • Forensic Evidence
Type of Forensic Evidence
  • Fingerprint
  • Serology
Types of Flawed Forensics
  • Valid
Brief Quote / Description of Testimony

The analyst described a B substance foreign to the victim, while the defendant had an O type. The boyfriend of the victim was "AB" and the analyst explained that the AB substances could have come from the boyfriend: "I really dont have anything to incriminate or to eliminate Mr. Cotton." The analyst excluded the defendant from having left A-type stains in second case.

Identity of eyewitness
  • Cross Racial Identification
  • Victim
Lineup Procedures
  • Lineup
Suggestive Procedures

Yes ● Suggestive remarks

Quotes from testimony #1

Victim later recounted that “When I picked him out in the physical lineup and I walked out of the room, they looked at me and said, ‘That’s the same guy,’ I mean, ‘That’s the one you picked out in the photo.’ For me that was a huge amount of relief.”

Unreliable Identification?

Yes ● Initial nonidentification (one victim at line-up could not decide between two people and second victim could not identify) ● Discrepancies in description – composite looked unlike defendant, and also scars not mentioned

Quotes from testimony #2

And at the conclusion of that first time through at that lineup, isn’t it true that you told Detective Gauldin, quote, ‘It is between #4 and #5’? A: Yes, I told him that for certain reasons

Highest level reachedAppeal
Claims Raised During All Appeals and Postconviction
  • State Law Evidence Claim
Claims granted, resulting in preexon. reversal
  • State Law Evidence Claim
Harmless Error Rulings
  • G
  • HE
Citations to judicial opinions

State v. Cotton, 351 S.E.2d 277 (N.C. 1987), State v. Cotton, 394 S.E.2d 456 (N.C. App. 1990)
State v. Cotton, 407 S.E.2d 514 (N.C. 1991)

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