“It’s a steep climb anywhere in the country, but in Hawaii it’s particularly steep.” That’s attorney Brook Hart of the Hawaii Innocence Project (HIP), discussing the plight of Alvin Jardine, a Maui resident who spent 20 years behind bars for a crime he says he didn’t commit—and who last week was granted a new trial based on DNA evidence.
In 1992, after two deadlocked juries, Jardine was convicted of rape, assault, kidnapping and burglary. DNA testing was much cruder at the time, and Hart says the prosecution relied mostly on “faulty identification procedures.” Jardine maintained his innocence throughout, even refusing offers to shorten his sentence if he admitted guilt and entered a sex-offender treatment program.
In 2005, the newly formed Innocence Project took on the case. By then most of the evidence had been destroyed, but after years of searching HIP was able to locate a tablecloth that contained samples of “male secretions”—none of which matched Jardine. Based on that finding, 2nd District Judge Joel August vacated Jardine’s conviction. Now the state must decide whether to proceed with yet another trial.
Meanwhile, the 41-year-old Jardine—who was flown to Maui from a private prison in Arizona partly on HIP’s dime—is free on bail. UH professor and HIP director Virginia Hench says Jardine is spending time with his family, “relieved but a little overwhelmed and not ready to be a public figure.”
Jardine is the first person whose conviction HIP has helped overturn; both Hart and Hench credit the efforts of attorney Bill Harrison and a “team of dedicated students.” But Jardine’s story isn’t over. Even if the state drops the charges or he wins acquittal, there’s still the question of those 20 lost years.
Hench says Hawaii is one of the few states that doesn’t guarantee reparations for the wrongly convicted. In fact, she adds, prisoners who are freed after being found innocent are in some respects worse off than those freed on parole—at least parolees have access to public assistance. Jardine can sue, but that means even more legal wrangling and quite possibly stepping into a courtroom. Considering what he’s been through, that’s probably the second-to-last place he wants to be.