Idaho held an innocent man on death row for 18 years. Now it’s paying for that.
Charles Fain’s plans? To move on, retire from his factory job, and buy a pickup truck.
How much will the wrongful conviction of a death row inmate who spent nearly 20 years behind bars cost the state of Idaho?
Close to $1.4 million.
The sum will be awarded to Charles Fain, who was released from death row in 2001 after he was exonerated by DNA evidence in the 1982 sexual assault and drowning murder of 9-year-old Daralyn Johnson. The girl was abducted while walking to school in Nampa.
Police believe they found her true killer, David Dalrymple, in May 2020.
Greg Hampikian, director of the Idaho Innocence Project, said Fain will receive a lump-sum check issued by the state sometime within the next week.
Wendy Olson and Andrea S. Carone, volunteer attorneys from Stoel Rives, worked with Idaho Innocence Project Legal Director Robin Long to come to an agreement with the Idaho Attorney General’s office on how much the state should pay Fain.
The compensation is the result of the Idaho Wrongful Conviction Act, which was signed into law in March and calls for a wrongfully convicted person to receive $62,000 for each year of incarceration, or $75,000 for years served on death row. The bill passed both chambers of the Idaho Legislature unanimously.
Prior to the law’s passage, Idaho paid no set amount to wrongfully convicted inmates. The Idaho Statesman has reported wrongfully convicted inmates were previously entitled to no benefits or compensation.
Fain, now over 70, spent the vast majority of 18 years on death row, Hampikian said.
Fain also received a certificate of innocence from Idaho’s courts. He and Christopher Tapp, who was exonerated in 2019 of the rape and murder of 18-year-old Angie Dodge, are the first Idahoans to receive such certificates, a new mechanism created by the Wrongful Conviction Act.
“Now, finally, Charles is declared innocent of that murder, and that was important because the law that we passed most easily applied to those that have been declared innocent,” Hampikian said.
‘This doesn’t happen very often’
Fain was initially convicted and sentenced to death in November 1983 based on a pubic hair that was said to have unique characteristics in mitochondrial DNA that matched Fain. Hampikian called that “complete baloney.” The prosecution relied on that DNA evidence and the testimony of two jailhouse informants in their case.
In 2001, mitochondrial DNA testing was performed on pubic hairs found in the victim’s clothing and determined Fain was not a match. U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill ordered Fain’s release, and the prosecution decided not to try the case again.
Until recently, Hampikian said DNA testing on a hair without its root was limited in the information it could provide. But with the help of a colleague at the University of California-Santa Cruz, Ed Green, Hampikian learned of a technique used on ancient DNA that could be used to track down the real killer.
“He said they’ve got this technique they just got working, and he developed a software that would clean up data from very ancient hair to get at useful information, so I said, ‘Could we use that on a 40-year old hair?’ and he said ‘I don’t see why not,’” Hampikian said.
Green’s technique is similar to the process used by genealogy companies like 23andMe. While most crime labs use DNA testing processes that require large amounts of DNA that is not degraded by time or other environmental factors, this method works for DNA that has been around for thousands of years. From there, Hampikian said Canyon County Sheriff’s Office investigators hired a genealogist to track the family lines indicated in the DNA — which eventually led them to Dalrymple, who was charged with the crime. Dalrymple was already in prison for kidnapping and abusing another child.
“Idaho is really leading the country in genealogy exonerations and in finding the right guy,” Hampikian said. “This doesn’t happen very often where you get the guy out of prison and you find the right (killer).”
What’s next for Fain
Fain is a private person and didn’t want interviews, according to Hampikian, but he did want people to know some of his thoughts.
“He said to me, ‘You make sure that they know I’m thinking of the victim’s family, that they’re not getting anything from this. This does nothing for them except to remind them.’ And (that) he thinks about them,” Hampikian said. “And ‘I’ll be happy to be done with this and get on with my life.’”
Fain plans to stay in Idaho and retire from his box factory job, Hampikian said. He also wants to buy a pickup truck.
But beyond the monetary reward, Hampikian said the recognition of innocence is the most meaningful.
“After all those years of absolute inhumanity just because they’re telling the truth, after all those years, to be recognized … that’s everything for these guys.”