County of Conviction: San Diego
Convicted of: Kidnapping and Rape
Years Served: 8 Years
Released: June 24, 2013
Cost of Wrongful Incarceration: $360,000
On November 24, 2004, the day before Thanksgiving, a young girl walked along Buena Vista Road in Lemon Grove. While walking, she noticed a man staring at her from an old, light colored truck with a fake wooden camper. The victim walked under the underpass of the 94 Freeway and a man came up behind her, grabbed her from behind, and told her not to scream. The man lifted her skirt and ripped her underwear. The victim fought vigorously with her attacker, hitting him in the face with her portable CD player. She broke free for a moment and ran. As she ran across Buena Vista Road, her attacker caught up to her again. He grabbed her and threw her down in some bushes near a stoplight. There, he sexually assaulted her. The victim kept fighting and managed to escape from him.
At home, the victim called the police and placed her clothing in a plastic bag for detectives. She also began to think that her attacker was probably the man she saw staring at her from the old, light colored truck. The victim described her attacker as a white male between 5’8” and 5’10,” 150-160 lbs, in his 20s, with facial hair.
Initially, police had no leads on who the victim’s attacker might be. Police drove her around to local bars and other places to see if she recognized anyone, but she did not. The victim tried to assist a sketch artist in rendering a composite sketch, but she did not know enough details to complete the sketch. One other eyewitness helped with a composite sketch. Later someone saw a light colored truck with a fake wooden camper on it and reported the truck to police. The truck belonged to Uriah Courtney’s stepfather. Uriah, a North Park resident, was a white male 5’10,” 160 lbs, in his 20s, and he had a goatee.
When shown a picture of the truck, the victim said she was 80% sure it was the truck she had seen at the time of the crime. Police placed Uriah’s photo in a six-pack lineup and the victim tentatively identified Uriah as her attacker, stating “not sure, but the most similar is number 4.” However, she stated she was more confident in her identification of the truck rather than of Uriah. The eyewitness also identified Uriah from the six-pack lineup. Despite her uncertainties, the victim testified at trial she was sure of her identification of both the truck and of Uriah. A jury rendered a guilty verdict and the court sentenced Uriah to life in prison for kidnapping and rape.
The California Innocence Project at California Western School of Law started investigating Uriah’s case in the Fall of 2010 and determined that further DNA testing would be appropriate. After all, 75% of DNA exonerations are the product of misidentifications. At the time of Uriah’s conviction, the San Diego Sheriff’s Department performed DNA testing on the victim’s fingernail scrapings and her underwear, but did not obtain any meaningful results. However, advancements in the sophistication of DNA technology have made great strides since 2004, strides that would allow testing on all of the victim’s clothing and which could isolate any male DNA from The victim’s DNA.
With the cooperation of the San Diego District Attorney’s Office, the victim’s clothing was re-submitted for DNA testing. The testing revealed a male profile, not Uriah’s, on both the shirt and the skirt. That male profile was run through the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS), a national databank containing convicted offender profiles, and a match was obtained. The DNA matched a local man who lived a mere three miles from the crime scene and had a striking resemblance to Uriah.