Gary Dotson (born circa
1957) is an American man who was
the second person to be exonerated of a criminal conviction by
In May 1979, he
was found guilty and sentenced to 25 to 50 years' imprisonment for
rape, and another 25 to 50 years for aggravated kidnapping
, the terms to be served concurrently.
This conviction was upheld by the appellate court in 1981. In 1985,
the accusing witness recanted her testimony, which had been the
main evidence against Dotson. He was not exonerated or pardoned at
that time, but due to popular belief that he was a victim of a
false rape accusation, Dotson went through a series of paroles and
re-incarcerations until DNA evidence proved his innocence in 1988.
Dotson was subsequently cleared of his conviction.
Gary E. Dotson was a high-school dropout who, at the
time of his arrest, was living in Country Club
Hills, a modest Chicago suburb, with
his mother Barbara and his sister Debbie.
in 1979, the next eight years of his life were spent in prison;
another four were spent on legal proceedings which led to charges
being dropped in 1988 and a full pardon in 2002.
After his first release from prison in 1985, Dotson married Camille
Dardanes, a woman who had gotten to know him during the hearings
following his conviction. In March of 1986, under difficult
financial circumstances, the couple moved in with Dotson's mother.
In January, 1987, they had a daughter, Ashley. The early years of
their marriage were complicated by poverty, and by Dotson's
unemployment and alcoholism. An August, 1987 arrest for domestic
violence further complicated Dotson's legal situation in the years
to come. Near the end of 1987, Camille requested a divorce. She
filed the formal paperwork in April, 1989.
Sixteen-year-old Cathleen Crowell, generally known in the press as
"Cathy," feared she had become pregnant after having consensual sex
with her boyfriend. Crowell made up a rape allegation as an
explanation for her foster parents. After her 1985 recantation, she
described herself as an "emotionally disturbed" foster child and
revealed that she had been sexually active since the age of 12.
Crowell later admitted her fabrication was based on a scene from a
1974 best-selling bodice ripper
romance novel, Sweet Savage
began the night of July 9, 1977, when a police officer happened
upon her standing beside a road not far from the shopping mall in the Chicago suburb of
Homewood, where she lived and where she worked in a Long John Silver's seafood
Her clothing was dirt-stained and in
Crowell tearfully told the officer that, as she walked across the
mall parking lot after work, a car with three young men in it
darted toward her. Two of the men jumped out, grabbed her, and
threw her into the backseat. One of them climbed in beside her, and
the other joined the driver in the front. The man in the back tore
her clothes, raped her, and scratched several letters onto her
stomach with a broken beer bottle.
Crowell was taken to South Suburban Hospital, where a rape
examination was performed. It had not occurred to her that police
would pursue her case. Police made her make a composite sketch
, and Crowell says they
pressured her to pick 20 year old Gary Dotson from a mug book
, pointing out how much his mug shot
resembled the sketch. Dotson was arrested
even though he then had a mustache that he could not have grown in
the five days since the alleged incident and had no sign of the
scratches Crowell claimed she inflicted on her assailant.
Crowell identified Dotson as her rapist at trial in July 1979 and
he was convicted. The trial also included false and misleading
forensic evidence. The prosecutions forensic expert, who claimed to
be doing graduate research at the University of California at
Berkeley, had in fact only attended a two day course there. He
testified that he had detected type B blood antigens in swabs taken
as evidence and that type B comprised only 10% of the population.
Dotson was type B so the implication was clear. However, he failed
to mention that Crowell herself was type B which made the testimony
irrelevant. It was also claimed pubic hair evidence "matched"
Dotson although there was no test at the time capable of matching
hairs with a source. It would come to light later that the hairs
were not even similar to Dotson's. Alibi
testimony from four of Dotson's friends that placed him in another
part of city at the time of the rape was dismissed by the
prosecutor who claimed the fact that there were no inconsistencies
in their testimony "proved" they were lying.
Another inconsistency in the case did not come to light until after
Crowell's recantation in 1985 when Dotson's new lawyer retained a
forensic serologist to look at the trial evidence. Although Crowell
claimed she was raped several hours before the hospital examined
her, the original forensic testing of the swabs taken in fact
indicated the sexual encounter had occurred at least a day
In 1981, Crowell Webb had become deeply religious. In 1982, Crowell
married a high school classmate, David Webb, and they moved to New
Hampshire. In early 1985, she told her New Hampshire pastor that
she was riddled with guilt because she had sent an innocent man to
prison. On her behalf, the pastor contacted a Wisconsin lawyer who
tried to resolve the matter. The lawyer first contacted the Cook
County State's Attorneys Office but found the prosecutors
unresponsive. Dotson sought post-judgment relief based on Crowell
Webb’s recantation, but the trial court found her recantation to be
unbelievable and refused to free him.
The lawyer next contacted the media (leading to the infamous "How
about a hug?" moment on the CBS Morning Show
resulting public sympathy caused the original trial judge to
release Dotson on $100,000 bond pending a hearing one week later.
At that hearing, the same judge rejected new evidence discrediting
the forensic evidence given at the trial, called the recantation
less credible than the original testimony and sent Dotson back to
Dotson's attorney also petitioned the Governor of Illinois
, James R. Thompson
, for clemency
on April 19. "Big Jim" Thompson, formerly
a federal prosecutor, responded to the media attention by declaring
that he personally would oversee three days of public hearings on
Crowell Webb's recantation. The hearings lasted three days, from
May 10 through May 12, 1985. Twenty-four witnesses were called to testify
at the just-opened new State of Illinois Center in Chicago which
Thompson had built, and which is now named after
The sexually graphic proceedings were
televised, creating a nationwide crime drama at a time when cameras
in the courtroom were unheard of. Viewers were shocked when a
"gigantic" projection of Crowell Webb's stained underwear was
projected onto a massive screen on the wall, and when she and her
boyfriend recited details of their sexual activity. Nearly a
quarter-century later, the Thompson Dotson hearings were still
described as "circuslike," a description widely used in 1985.
Governor Thompson denied clemency but accommodated the popular view
that Dotson was innocent by commuting his sentence to time served.
This tarnished the governor's image with the public; if Dotson was
innocent, why was he not cleared? And if he were guilty, why was
Thompson releasing him? Furthermore, this half-measure put Dotson
on parole, which meant that he could be returned to prison without
On August 2, 1987, Dotson was arrested on a domestic violence
charge against his wife
after she told police that he had slapped her. He was ordered held
without bond on August 27, and — even though his wife refused to
cooperate and charges were dropped — Dotson's parole
was revoked and his full remaining sentence of
16 years was reinstated. On Christmas
1987, Governor Thompson gave Dotson one last parole.
day Dotson went with friends to the Zig Zag Lounge in Calumet City.
Dotson ordered a sandwich, but objected
when it came topped with peppers, which he had not ordered; he
refused to pay. The waitress called police and claimed he threw "an
unknown object" at her and he was arrested and charged with theft,
battery, and disorderly conduct.
The state Department of Corrections put a parole hold on him to
prevent his release and scheduled an Illinois Prisoner Review Board
hearing for February 17th. A few days later, the criminal charges
were voluntarily dropped by the State's Attorney's Office after
witnesses cast doubt on the waitress's version and she refused to
testify under oath. Although the criminal charges had been dropped,
the scheduled February 17 Prisoner Review Board hearing went ahead
and revoked the parole because, due to his arrest, Dotson had been
48 hours late calling his parole
. He was released after his six-month technical parole
violation had been served.
On August 15, 1988 Governor Thompson and the prosecutors were
notified that DNA testing
excluded Dotson and positively included Crowell's then-boyfriend,
David Bierne, as the source of the semen stain. Nevertheless, the
governor stated he would not act without receiving a recommendation
from the Prisoner Review Board, which then failed to consider it.
The media took up Dotson's case. In May 1989 his lawyer filed a new
petition for post-conviction relief which was accepted for hearing
on August 14, 1989. The prosecutors publicly vowed to oppose the
petition, but later joined the judge in dismissing the original
conviction and dropping all charges at the August 14 hearing.
Dotson was officially pardoned by Illinois Governor George Ryan in
By the time Dotson was cleared in 1989, Cathy Crowell Webb had four
children and had permanently made her home in New Hampshire, where
her husband then worked as a welder and ironworker. She died of
on May 15, 2008, six years
after diagnosis. She had been working part-time as a receptionist
at a religious grammar school and as a helper at a local golf
course. After her death, her husband David told the press how she
felt about recanting:
Once she got
saved [in 1981] and came to terms with what she had done to
Gary's life, she made the decision to come forward. She had two
young children, and she had no idea of how intense an experience it
was going to be, but she fully expected to pay more of a price than
she actually did. There was a good chance that she might have had
to go to jail. She couldn't give Gary back his years, but at that
point she did everything she could to make it right.Golab, Art.
Recanted rape allegation in '85 - She made up story at 16, sending
Gary Dotson to prison for 8 years. May 20, 2008, ''Chicago
Sun-Times.'' Accessed via NewsBank Archives October 23,
In 1985 Crowell co-wrote a book about the incident called "Forgive
Me" and gave Dotson more than $17,000 in proceeds from its sale,
keeping nothing for herself except the taxes due on that payment.
In return, Dotson promised not to sue her over her false
accusation. Dotson used the money to finance the start of his
post-prison life, including a trip to [[Las Vegas metropolitan
area|Las Vegas]] to marry Camille. In 1985, Dotson had planned to
write his own book with New York author Jeannie Ralston. If
written, the book was not published. By April 1989, Camille filed
for separation. By fall of 1989, Dotson was working part-time as a
construction worker in Illinois and was hoping to register for
college classes to become a counselor. After their 1989 divorce,
Camille and their daughter moved to Las Vegas, near Camille's
mother, Barbara Kritzalis. Camille's life rapidly became tragic,
including work in the sex industry and heavy use of drugs. She
spent time in jail, and married a man accused of murder. Her mother
took over raising Ashley, born to Camille and Gary Dotson in 1987.
Camille disappeared completely in May 1994, and as recently as
October 2009, was still listed on a missing-persons
Case 1063DFNV: Camille Dorothy Dardanes, a/k/a Dotson, Diaz], DOE
Network website. Accessed October 23, 2009. In 2003, her mother
told an interviewer, "She was never clean; even when she was in
jail she'd get drugs. It's as if she was off in another world. Is
she alive? Do I think I'll ever hear from her? Truthfully, no. But
I want closure. I want answers." No later than 2003, Dotson and his
daughter moved back to Illinois. At the time of Crowell Webb's
death in 2008, Dotson was reported to be "living quietly in the far
south suburbs of Chicago" and "wanting to stay under the radar now,
wanting to put this behind him."
- Litke, James. Gary Dotson trying to adjust to life outside
prison, May 9, 1986 Associated Press report. The Ledger of
Lakeland, Florida. Accessed October 23, 2009.
- The DNA 200, May 26, 2007. Accessed October 23,
- Dotson Summary, Northwestern University School of
Law. Accessed October 23, 2009.
- Released prisoner gets big welcome,
Press report, April 5, 1985 Spokane Chronicle.
Accessed October 23, 2009.
- Dotson's woes tied to wife's divorce bid, December 28,
1987. Chicago Sun-Times. Accessed October 23, 2009.
- Jailed for a Rape That Never Happened, Gary Dotson
Has His Name Cleared at Last, August 28, 1989. PEOPLE Magazine.
Accessed October 23, 2009.
- Shipp, E.R. "Forgive," asks woman in rape disavowal,
November 28, 1985, New York Times. Paid archive accessed
October 23, 2009. Free version available online at The Ledger of Lakeland, Florida, December 2,
- Rogers, Rosemary. Sweet Savage Love. Avon: 1974. ASIN
B000CBMW4Y ISBN 1551668319
- Law: Cathy and Gary in Medialand, May 27, 1985.
TIME Magazine. Accessed October 23, 2009.
- Roeper, Richard. The sad story of Gary Dotson's ex-wife. August
11, 2003, Chicago Sun-Times. Accessed via NewsBank paid
archive October 23, 2009.
- The Gary Dotson Rape Case: In The Name Of
Justice, May 23, 2008. CBS News. Accessed October 12,
- Quintanilla, Ray. CATHLEEN CROWELL WEBB: Figure in rape case
helped free inmate. May 21, 2008, Chicago Tribune.
Accessed via NewsBank Archives October 23, 2009.
- Cathleen Crowell Webb dies at 46 Chicago
Tribune May 20, 2008
- Woman who lied about rape dies, May 20, 2008.
ABC Local News, WLS-TV, Chicago. Accessed October 23, 2009.