Throughout his 18 ½ years of incarceration, he was transferred 17 times. Mr. Dail continued his letter writing campaign and wrote the governor daily about his innocence. He had read about DNA and contacted his attorney and requested a DNA test. He also noted he did not want the evidence destroyed. "I knew the power of DNA," says Mr. Dail. In 1995, his family inquired about the evidence and they were told that it had been destroyed in 1994. "I felt then that with the evidence destroyed, my life was actually over," says Mr. Dail.
Mr. Dail was informed that the Center for Project Innocence accepted his case for investigation. In 2004, the Center informed Mr. Dail there was nothing they could do for him because the evidence had been destroyed. They contacted the victim who was not interested in speaking about the matter. "We ran into so many brick walls," says Mr. Dail.
Mr. Dail and his family searched for ways he could possibly make parole. When he did receive a parole hearing, he was informed that in order for him to make parole, he would have to take a sex offender course and express remorse to the parole board. "I just could not do that," said Mr. Dail. He indicated he would have to die, but he would not admit guilt for a crime he did not commit.
One day, when he was taken to the visitation area, there stood a woman, Christine Mumma, an attorney with the North Carolina Center on Actual Innocence. Ms. Mumma informed Mr. Dail that evidence had been found in his case. "I fell out of my chair and burst into tears. Evidence meant I was going home, and I knew that," said Mr. Dail. He immediately told Ms. Mumma, "Test anything and everything you can find."
Fortunately for Mr. Dail, the evidence in his case had mistakenly been placed on a shelf where evidence in murder cases is held, and it remained there for 18 years. Consequently, the rape kit had not been destroyed. If the kit had been placed on the shelf where rape evidence was held, it would have already been destroyed. The evidence proved that semen found in the nightgown of the victim excluded Duane as the perpetrator.
The Innocence Center receives 1200 innocence claim inquiries per year with a 95% rejection rate. According to Ms. Mumma, there were several things about Mr. Dail's case that caused them to pursue it - he refused attractive offers that were made to him; he was dragged from the courtroom by his ankles while he continually proclaimed his innocence, and the evidence was weak.
Ms. Mumma explains that preservation, property collection, storage, and notice of destruction are critical elements for working cold cases and cases that involve victims of violent crimes. She emphasizes these areas must be a priority relative to investigation of such cases. "In many of these cases, it is pure luck that results in exoneration," says Ms. Mumma.
In October 2007, Mr. Dail received a pardon from North Carolina Governor Mike Easley. "It's a whole different world than in 1989. You can't imagine how stupid a person feels when you can't pump gas," says Mr. Dail. "A lot has changed in the last 20 years. My son was born seven months after I was locked up, and my mother is a little old lady now. It's difficult to get to know my family again," says Mr. Dail who acknowledges his family was always close. "They suffered immensely," he adds.
Mr. Dail is currently receiving compensation from the state of North Carolina but, most importantly, he is rejoicing in having his freedom and innocence back. "What is most important to me is that I survived. I hope to think I am on my way back. I am blessed," says Mr. Dail.
The victimization he endured was an ordeal that captured, what could have been, many productive years of his life. The dedicated efforts of Christine Mumma, a tenacious attorney who believed in his innocence, greatly assisted with this successful outcome. "I've seen other cases where I believe people were factually innocent and evidence has been destroyed. For me, this case was just a small reward for all the pain we've had on those other cases," says Ms. Mumma. She shares Mr. Dail's happiness and is unrelenting in her support. "I'm with him every step of the way," she says.