Charles I. Fain

Condemned by a hair — someone else's

Charles I. Fain was sentenced to death for the rape and drowning of 9-year-old Daralyn Johnson, who was abducted from a street in Nampa, Idaho, a small town west of Boise, on February 24, 1982.

Fain became a suspect seven months after the crime only because he lived a block from the victim and had light brown hair; light brown pubic hairs had been found on the victim's body. He was among scores of men who were asked, and who agreed, to provide hair samples. After an FBI forensic scientist concluded that his pubic hairs were microscopically similar to those recovered from the victim, Fain was arrested and charged.

Vaginal swabs that might have eliminated Fain as a suspect were lost or destroyed by authorities before his 1983 trial. The pubic hairs recovered from the child's clothing were in a kit with the swabs, but they somehow escaped loss or destruction.

At the trial, the only evidence other than the FBI forensic expert's testimony regarding the pubic hairs was the testimony of two jailhouse informants who claimed that he had admitted the crime in their presence. Both denied that they the prosecution had promised them anything. That technically may have been true, but Fain's appellate lawyers learned that the prosecutor had asked the snitches to testify "in good faith" at least raising the expectation of favorable consideration in the future.

Fain's appeals had long been exhausted when, in 2000, a federal court authorized funds for DNA testing, which established that the pubic hairs recovered from the victim's clothing were not his. The conviction was set aside and, in 2001, the attorney general of Idaho announced the dismissal of all charges and the reopening of the investigation in the hope of finding the actual killer.

Idaho Attorney General's statement (pdf)

Case Data

Jurisdiction: Canyon County, Idaho
Date of crime: February 24, 1982
Date of arrest: September 1982
Charge: First degree murder, lewd and lascivious conduct with a minor under the age of 16
Sentence: Death
Release date: August 23, 2001
Months wrongfully incarcerated: 234
Date of birth: September 3, 1948
Age at time of arrest: 34
Defendant race: Caucasian
Race of victim(s): Caucasian
Defendant prior felony record: None
Known factors leading to wrongful conviction: Junk science, jailhouse snitch testimony, loss or destruction of potentially exculpatory physical evidence
Did an appellate court ever affirm conviction? Yes
Exonerated by: DNA
Compensation for wrongful imprisonment: None as of December 2002

— Rob Warden