The time is late Autumn 2006. A middle-aged African American inmate sits in the jail cell in Arizona he has occupied for 24 years.
He has little reason to hope he'll ever see the outside of this prison again -- except for one possibly monumental new development -- the perfection of a new approach to DNA testing that was not available at the time of his conviction.
He has requested the DNA tests and has heard rumors that such advanced testing is being done in his case -- but he's heard all the jailhouse rumors before and tends to minimize their value.
According to the Innocence Project, On June 22, 1981, Catherine Schilling, a 21-year-old Georgetown University student, was found raped and murdered in Rock Creek Park in Washington, D.C. She was nude and had been shot five times in the head.
The Project reports that on July 20, 1981, Gates, 30, "was arrested for failing to appear in court on an unrelated case. Gates, who had been arrested six times for robbery and assault between 1980 and 1981, gave up a hair sample as part of a processing procedure."
It's what was done and said about hair samples and other forensics in the years ahead that would reveal enough lying and corruption to blow the lid off the so-called state of the art FBI Laboratory and force it to forfeit its reputation as the gold standard among forensic crime labs.
The Innocence Project reports that Gates was charged with the rape and murder after a police informant, Gerald Mack Smith, claimed that he and Gates were drinking in the park when Gates said he wanted to rob the victim, but when she resisted, he killed her."
The Project added, "Smith later picked out Gates' photo. He was paid $50 for the initial tip and $250 for picking out the photograph. In all, Smith would be paid $1,300 for his help on the case."
Trial records and memoranda to this reporter from trial observers at Gates' trial in 1982, reveal that key testimony came from FBI forensic analyst Michael Malone who said that Gates' pubic hairs were "microscopically indistinguishable" from hairs found on the victim's body.
On September 16, 1982, Gates was convicted. He was sentenced to 20 years to life in prison.
In 1997, a scathing internal review of the FBI laboratory was conducted by the DOJ Inspector General, who found that Malone and other analysts made false reports on cases across the country and performed inaccurate laboratory tests.
In January 2002, the U.S. Justice Department sent a letter to prosecutors in the case, informing them that Malone's lab report was not supported by his notes and advising them to determine whether the defense should be notified. The defense was not notified.
In 2007, Gates sought DNA testing again. Two years later, the request was granted and the tests, conducted on a sample of biological evidence found at the District of Columbia medical examiner's office, eliminated him as the killer and rapist.
So a grievous miscarriage of justice was arguably corrected, albeit far too late. Nonetheless, it was a bittersweet moment for Gates, who was released on December 15, 2009 -- after 27 years in prison.
On December 18, 2009, the charges were dismissed. Gates was given $75 and a bus ticket to Ohio.
But the joy for the system was short-lived. The reason is that hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people had possibly been unlawfully tried and sentenced partly based on the junk science that applies to all forensics, with the exception of DNA. In Gates's case, the analysis of his single hair was the only physical evidence introduced in court, and thus probably heavily responsible for his conviction.