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July 15, 2014

Mississippi man charged in 1982 rape case

NORMAN — The Cleveland County District Attorney’s Office has charged a suspect in a 32-year-old case of rape for which another man was wrongfully convicted and spent more than 13 years in prison.

The suspect, Gilbert Duane Harris, 58, of Biloxi, Miss., was identified after an Oklahoma Watch inquiry last year caused the Norman Police Department to request that DNA evidence from the 1982 rape of a University of Oklahoma student be run through the national DNA databank. That check, sought by the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, got a match, but authorities say it took months to verify and follow up.

Norman police told Oklahoma Watch that DNA evidence from the rape also had been matched to Harris’ DNA in 2006 after Louisiana authorities encountered Harris and ran the database check. The match was reported to Oklahoma authorities, but for some reason the Cleveland County District Attorney’s Office did not take further steps to pursue charges.

An affidavit attached to the charge alleges that the assault occurred in an apartment in the 1100 block of Biloxi Drive, east of the OU campus.

“That information was reported by the state of Louisiana to OSBI, which in turn reported it not to the Norman Police Department as best as we can tell, but to the District Attorney’s Office. It’s at that point in 2006 that the case appears to end,” Norman Police Capt. Tom Easley said. Asked whether he knew what happened, Easley said, “Don’t know, can’t explain it ... That is the $64,000 question.”

Cleveland County First Assistant District Attorney Susan Caswell said her staff began pursuing the case actively after being notified some time last year about a new DNA match linking Harris to the 1982 crime.

Harris, 58, was charged Friday with first-degree rape and forcible sodomy. He has not yet been arrested in Mississippi.

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