A man sent to prison for robbery successfully appealed his conviction, arguing that fingerprint evidence alone was not enough to prove that he committed the crime, reported The Legal Intelligencer.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit on Tuesday ruled in favor of defendant Jamar Travillion, who was sentenced to 10 to 20 years in prison for robbery in 2006. While successful in overturning his robbery conviction, Travillion will remain incarcerated because of a separate sentence of life without parole for second-degree murder.
Travillion was accused of robbing the Rainbow Apparel store in Pittsburgh, according to Third Circuit Judge Luis Restrepo’s Dec. 15 opinion. The store’s owner, Deborah Diodati, testified that a man with a turtleneck around his face and a stocking covering his head forced his way into the store and demanded money. She obliged, handing over approximately $6,000 from the store’s safe. In the process of the robbery, the suspect dropped a manila folder containing papers he’d carried into the store.
A police investigation found Travillion’s fingerprints on the folder but nowhere else in the store, including an office door that Diodati said was torn from its hinges by the robber. Additionally, Diodati was unable to identify the suspect more specifically than noting his clothing, race and dialect.
Because of that, Restrepo said, the court concluded the evidence was insufficient to convict Travillion of robbery.
“Evidence that Travillion’s fingerprints were found on the easily movable manila folder and a paper inside the folder carried into the store by the robber and a witness’ description of the robber that does not match Travillion but doesn’t necessarily exclude him is not sufficient evidence for a rational trier of fact to place Travillion at the scene of the crime at the time the crime was committed beyond a reasonable doubt,” Restrepo said.
The judge added that the evidence did nothing to place Travillion at the store during the time of the robbery.
“There was no evidence that the folder and paper were unavailable to Travillion prior to the robbery, no evidence as to the age of the prints, and no evidence as to how long the prints could remain on the folder and paper after their impression,” Restrepo said.
He added, “In addition to the absence of evidence regarding when Travillion’s fingerprints on the easily movable folder and paper were impressed, there was a lack of sufficient additional incriminating evidence, circumstantial or otherwise, so as to allow a rational juror to find guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Although there is evidence that Travillion touched the folder at some indefinite time with his left hand, and there is evidence that the robber carried the folder at the time of the crime in his left hand, there is not sufficiently incriminating evidence that Travillion was the perpetrator holding the folder at the time of the crime.”
The Allegheny County District Attorney’s Office declined to comment.
Travillion’s attorney, Kimberly Brunson of the Federal Public Defender’s Office for Western Pennsylvania, said she thought the Third Circuit “got it right.”
“Mr. Travillion was convicted and sentenced to 10 to 20 years imprisonment without sufficient evidence to support the jury’s verdict,” Brunson said. “This decision is a victory for every citizen who stands accused of a crime because it affirms the prosecution’s duty to provide proof beyond a reasonable doubt as to every element.”
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