Twenty-one years ago, a teacher was raped in her Towson apartment. Days later, an innocent man named Bernard Webster was arrested for the crime.
Yesterday, the man prosecutors say is the true attacker pleaded guilty - almost a year after DNA evidence freed Webster from the prison where he had spent two decades.
In a near-empty Baltimore County courtroom, Darren Lyndell Powell, 37, told Circuit Judge Susan M. Souder that he understood he was giving up his right to trial, answering "Yes, ma'am." The hearing was over within minutes. Powell will be sentenced this fall.
Assistant State's Attorney John Cox said that as part of a plea agreement he would ask Souder to impose a 20-year sentence - 10 years less than the one Webster received in 1983 from Judge John E. Raine Jr.
The agreement came "after a lot of talk and conversation with the victim about what she would have to go through with another trial," Cox said. Although he said she "was able and willing" to go through another trial, he said she was relieved that the case is near resolution.
Powell was linked to the 1982 rape by the same DNA evidence that cleared Webster, evidence that had been kept on a slide in Greater Baltimore Medical Center's storage for years.
Michele Nethercott, the head of the Maryland public defender's forensic unit, found the slide in 2001 during her investigation of Webster's case.
After the DNA was tested and determined to not be Webster's, and after Webster was cleared and released from prison, county police ran the evidence against state database of convicted felons' DNA profiles.
Powell came up as a match.
Prosecutors retested the DNA and reached the same results. They arrested Powell on Nov. 18. He had been recently released from prison, where he had been serving time for a 1989 rape conviction.