Meet the Exonerees

Chad Heins

State: Florida
Date of Birth: 1974
Incident Date: 04/17/1994
Age at Arrest: 19
Conviction Date: 12/20/1996
Age When Exonerated: 33
Exonerated Date: 12/04/2007
Time Served: 13
Conviction: Life Imprisonment
False Confession: No
Implicated by Another Youth: No

Case Details

On the night of April 17, 1994, nineteen-year-old Chad Heins returned home to the Mayport, Florida apartment he shared with his brother, Jeremy Heins, and his sister-in-law, Tina Heins. Chad, who showed strong signs of having a sleep disorder, arrived home before his sister-in-law and fell asleep on the living room sofa. When he awoke around 6:00 A.M., there were three small fires burning in the apartment. After putting out the fires and disarming the smoke alarm, Chad discovered Tina in her bedroom. She had been brutally stabbed twenty-seven times, and there was evidence of attempted sexual assault and battery. Apart from his presence in the apartment, there was no evidence implicating Chad Heins in the brutal murder of his sister-in-law. There was no blood on his body, no scrapes, and no murder weapon. Furthermore, three hairs discovered on the victim's body did not match Chad Heins's DNA profile. Despite this, a jury convicted Chad of first-degree murder and attempted sexual battery. On December 20, 1996, Chad was sentenced to life in prison. Five years later, DNA testing on skin cells found under the victim's fingernails were found to match the DNA profile of the hairs. This evidence seemed to exclude both Chad and his brother, Jeremy Heins. Chad's conviction was vacated in 2006. As prosecutors prepared to retry Chad Heins, the Innocence Project of Florida sought and obtained DNA testing on trace amounts of semen from the victim's bedsheets. The DNA analysis, released in November of 2007, showed that the DNA from the semen, the hairs, and the skin cells all belonged to the same, unidentified male. After concluding that this man must've been the actual perpetrator, Chad Heins was released from prison after thirteen years in custody.