Living With Freedom | After 27 years of being wrongfully incarcerated on rape charges, Johnny Pinchback has finally found the life he deserves
Pinchback was convicted and sentenced for the rape of two teenage girls, who misidentified him in a police lineup, and was sentenced to 99 years in prison. He was shattered, devastated and in disbelief
Living With Freedom is a special series by MEA WorldWide (MEAWW) that explores the lives of those wrongfully incarcerated after they are exonerated. Through these stories, we hope to give readers an insight into what it takes to start over.
In the spring of 1984, two girls were stopped by a man with a gun as they walked along Illinois Avenue in Dallas, Texas. He had taken them to a vacant plot nearby, tied their legs up and raped them. The attacker then left and the girls called the police. A few days later, when the two were together at the younger girl's apartment, they believed that they saw the man again in their parking lot and this time, they noted down his license plate. The cops traced the car to a man named Johnny Pinchback, a former US Army veteran.
When Pinchback heard that the police were looking for him, he called them. He vehemently denied the allegations, even going downtown to clear things up. It looked like he had managed to clear his name when just a couple of days later, two officials showed up at his door. "I had traffic violations that I hadn't paid for, so I figured that was it," he recalls. When he answered, he was told that he was indeed wanted for outstanding traffic violations, so he went along. He asked his then-girlfriend, who was with him at the time to call his mother, who Pinchback calls the rock of his life. However, when he got to the station, he was charged with rape, aggravated sexual assault — and his nightmare began.
Pinchback went on to be convicted for the rape of the two teenage girls, who misidentified him in a police line-up and was sentenced to 99 years in prison. He was shattered, devastated and in disbelief. "My court-appointed attorney never had time for me," he says recalling the troubled times from the past, "I told him I'll give you blood, pubic hair, slobber — anything you need. He told me he would take it but he never did." Instead, he was asked by his attorney W.C. "Corky" Davis, to accept the crime so his time would be reduced, but he refused. "I told him, give me what you think I deserve and that's what I got," he says quietly, "the truth got me to prison." He also notes that the District Attorney Henry Wade was a huge reason why he was in. "It was like legalized slavery during his time," he says.
Pinchback was released after 27 years in maximum security when his inmate friend Charles Chatman, who had been exonerated by DNA evidence in 2008, reached out to the Innocence Project of Texas and got them involved. "He is my friend and brother," Pinchback says, his voice heavy with love. He recalls a visit from Natalie Roetzel, one of his attorneys with the Innocence Project of Texas. "She came in and told me, after the third meeting, that she wouldn't stop till she got me out," he says and just like that, the glimmer of hope he had held on for so long was finally turning into fire. Eventually, DNA evidence proved his innocence.
His strength, through all those long years, came from his faith in God and his love for his family. He went on to get married by proxy while in prison and his wife stayed by him right till the end —that only added to his strength. "She's my friend," he says, "she's still with me."
He wrote poems that he shared with his inmates, who often sent them to their loved ones outside, and read books on law. He also equipped himself to find employment, did leather work and construction work, in case things went south when he got out. "I kept myself busy, it was all in my mind," he shares, saying that he knew how easy it was for people to forget that prisoners were human beings too. Even for someone who had seen plenty in the army, this wore him down.
He shares how he would wake up from his sleep because they had gas shot at the prisoners sometimes. "You have nowhere to go in that eight by ten cell you share with another man," he shares, "I had to get out."
And he did! Dressed in a white pinstripe suit, gifted to him by Charles and a bright blue tie, he walked out of the prison doors in the summer of 2011. "As I walked out, I asked one of the women prison guards to help me fix my tie," he recalls, laughing softly, "I wanted to look good, I felt so good and there was my family — my wife and my mother, waiting for me." It had been an unbelievable journey but here he was, ready to do what he wanted to do after spending a life doing everything he was told.
Pinchback received $2,131,000 as compensation. He recalls his family, those that had almost cut ties when he was in prison, coming to him with hands out. "It took some time to be okay and figure things out, but I'm alright," he says. He bought a ranch just outside of Dallas and a new home in Cedar Hill, as well as a Baltic 911 Porsche in metallic blue. He lives with his wife, his horses, and his dogs and takes care of his neighborhood. "I'm the mayor of my neighborhood," he jokes. "I'm the only one probably that doesn't work around here," he says laughing. He still finds himself occupied by his life at the ranch. He even has a retired friend in the neighborhood, who lives next door. Pinchback is also working on a book that documents his life in prison called 'The Other Side of Man'.
He is currently on the board of directors of the Innocence Project of Texas and is helping innocents still in prison to find a way out. "I had asked God to get me out and he did, now I continue his work," he says. To those still stuck behind bars, he says hold on. "There are great possibilities when you get out because the whole state of Texas is on parole," he says cracking up, "I mean, I've got a friend that brilliant, he works in General Motors. So it's really up to you to get up and fight," he says. Quite like the conversation, his story gets happier as time passes by.