By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Even in his white jumpsuit, it is obvious he's much fitter than he was before his incarceration. The 320 pounds have melted away to a trim, solid 210. "Today," he says, "I actually fit the description those women gave of the man who attacked them."
He talks only briefly of the grinding routine of prison life, of time spent reading and watching TV, writing letters, doing research in its law library and looking forward to the weekend visits from family and friends. Mainly, though, he tells of how he is an example of a black man who achieved a degree of success, only to "get knocked down for it." Again, he points out, he had "stepped out of bounds." "I was an ex-con who had developed himself into something."
Someday, Faison insists, he hopes to get it back, to prove he was not a night-stalking rapist, but there is little real optimism in his voice. Still, he makes points about some of the evidence against him: None of those he was accused of attacking was able to identify him, and most estimated his weight to be 100 pounds or more shy of what he actually weighed at the time. Nothing, he says--no fingerprints, hair or fibers--linked to him was ever found inside any of the victims' apartments.
It is obvious that he has prepared himself for the first interview he's given since his arrest. "At my first trial," he remembers, "I was numb. [The victim] testified that her attacker was wearing gloves. Yet, they found those partial prints on the door and the lock that were supposed to match mine. That was the only so-called evidence...and I got 90 years."
He shakes his head. "And she described the man who assaulted her as being 6 feet and 180 pounds. The prosecution obviously couldn't find anyone who remembered me when I weighed less than 300.
"The whole thing made me wonder if common sense really applies in a court of law."
Flipping through the manila folder in front of him, he continues making his case: "That woman who was getting ready for work and was attacked and robbed? They had nothing that showed I'd ever been in that apartment. No hairs, no semen. All they had was a piece of broken window glass--outside the apartment--that they said had my fingerprint on it." The recollection of the woman who said she was attacked in the parking lot before the assailant fled in a Toyota? "I've never driven a Toyota in my life," Faison insists.
What about the man in the ATM photograph, shown using a victim's card shortly after she'd been attacked? "The man," he says, "is wearing a hooded sweatshirt, and you can only see a small part of his face. But you can tell that he's clean-shaven. The only time I didn't have a beard back in 1997 was a four-day period after I'd lost a bet on the Tyson-Holyfield fight. I'd shaved it but immediately began growing it back."
As for the DNA evidence: "All they said was that I could not be eliminated, never that there was a match." There was, he notes, a window screen, found 60 feet away from the victim's apartment, that had a palm print the prosecution said matched his. "Even if it was my palm print--and I'm certainly not saying it was--that kind of evidence hardly placed me inside her home where the attack occurred."
Another woman, who lived less than a mile from Faison's residence at the time, had said that the intruder who raped her had entered her apartment through a small bedroom window she'd left open. Additionally, investigators found traces of semen on the living room floor where she had been forced to perform oral sex. "I was finally eliminated from that one when there was no DNA match," he points out. Then, with the first trace of a smile, "Can you imagine someone 320 getting through a little apartment window?"
Noting that he never knew any of the women he was accused of attacking, he questions whether the police investigated the possibility that other apprehended rapists might have been responsible for the crimes of which he was convicted.
Yet for all his denials, and some logical questions, there is one evidentiary hurdle that remains all but impossible to get over. DNA matching, regarded as a foolproof crime-solving technique, trumps all conjecture about partial or smudged fingerprints and conflicting descriptions. Five years ago Gina Cotroneo spat into a baggie, handed it over to police and the odds against her rapist being anyone other than Faison jumped off the mathematical chart. One in 300 million.
It is not a fact Faison is willing to concede. "When all that first came up," he says, "I knew it wasn't going to match. I was dumbfounded when they said it did."
Today, he remains so convinced that the physical evidence against him was somehow manipulated that he has asked DeSoto lawyer Fred McDaniel to file a motion requesting a new series of DNA tests. McDaniel, court-appointed only for purposes of filing the motion, says they are rarely granted.