On July 4, 2014, Hale attended a party with several friends at an apartment of a woman he did not know. They stood on the rooftop of the woman’s apartment, watching fireworks, drinking and smoking. Hale and four others left the apartment at 3:41 a.m., according to security footage.
The next morning, the woman called police and claimed she had no memory of the previous evening, but believed that she had been raped, as her underwear had been removed and there was pain in her genitals.
A rape examination revealed sperm on and inside her body, which gave a clear DNA sample. The police gathered DNA from the apartment in the hopes of a match, but initially found nothing. In December of that year, however, the city crime lab reported that they had a hit on the FBI’s DNA database. Crime lab technicians, Eric Duvall and Brian Pirot claimed that the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) had matched the DNA found inside the victim to that of the DNA of Hale.
Police took the test results as decisive evidence that Hale was the culprit and arrested him. He vehemently denied the charges and claimed it was "not possible" for there to be DNA evidence of his guilt.
According to the lawsuit, Hale was charged with sexual assault and held in prison for 61 days. Throughout that window he insisted that there was a mistake. In February 2015, Hale’s claim was proved right, as Duvall and Pirot had been found to have mixed DNA samples in the lab. The two mislabeled a DNA sample found inside the victim’s body with another DNA sample from the scene, a cigarette smoked by Hale.
Prosecution quickly dropped the charges and Hale was released from prison, and is now suing Duvall and Pirot for economic, emotional, and punitive damages, as well as a formal written apology. Sputnik News reached out to veteran Denver attorney David Lane, representing Hale in the lawsuit.
"I think it shows how a moment of recklessness by the police can alter the course of someone’s life," Lane told Sputnik. "Their lack of attention to detail almost cost this man his whole life. It makes you wonder how many people are serving life sentences in prison on similar mistakes."
DNA is used to overturn many wrongful charges annually in the United States, according to the National Registry of Exonerations. However, there are few statistics on wrongful convictions caused by improper handling of DNA evidence. Duvall and Pirot’s mistake may have been one of simple mislabeling, but it did severe harm to Hale’s life, and almost ruined it completely.
Lane told the Denver Post that there is no excuse for the error. "When you are in that position and someone’s fate is in your hands, honest mistakes are not tolerated," Lane said, adding, "You are held to a higher standard."
At this time, neither Duvall nor Pirot have issued an apology. Lane told Sputnik that he does not believe that they will ever do so.