DNA doubts may free Albany man

August 1, 2002
By Mitch Kimbrell

A former Albany man may be innocent of a crime he was convicted of 15 years ago. Jimmie Gardner will go before the West Virginia Supreme Court on August 29th, and his Albany family will be with him.

Gardner was convicted of rape in 1987 and sentenced to 76 years in prison. Now his family is speaking out, declaring their loved one's innocence and finding out that their worst enemy is a man wanted for wrongfully putting several people behind bars.

Jimmie Gardner was a born athlete with dreams of playing in the big leagues.

"He was a person that was a straight 'A' student, a scholar, he played all sports. He was a good person," says his brother, Eric Gardner.

Gardner's life was great until he was thrown a curve ball more vicious than any he ever hurled. He was a twelfth round draft pick by the Chicago Cubs playing for the Charleston Wheelers in Charleston, WV when he was charged in the rape of two women.

Fred Zain, a former state chemist, presented DNA evidence that seemingly pinned Gardner to the crime.

"He told me a long time ago that he's not guilty, to pray for him that he was coming home."

And while most prisoners claim their innocence, evidence is showing that Gardner may be right.

Zain has been charged with at least five counts of tampering with evidence, and some of the people convicted because of his testimony have been freed. Jimmie may be next.

"I'm hoping that's when they're going to bring all the evidence that they have that Zain had to do with this case and open the doors and let him come home," says Eric. "This is a country that is supposed to be a land of freedom and it's not if we have people in the system that would tamper with a person's DNA."

While Gardner's guilt or innocence still hangs in the balance, his brother says a overturned verdict and a little money won't bring those years he spent in jail back.

"Some of the people that were freed were given money, but they still couldn't make up for their life, I don't think."

So, an Albany family waits and prays for the word they've been waiting to hear for so long - "innocent."

Gardner's brother, Eric, has written songs and dedicated an album to his brother and his hopes of a release from prison.