RICHMOND, Va. -- Gov. Gerald Baliles Wednesday pardoned a man who was serving a 35-year prison term for a murder that DNA tests showed had been committed by Timothy Spencer, the so-called Southside Strangler.
Baliles said 'reason and justice' called for releasing David Vasquez, 42, who was imprisoned for the 1984 murder of Carolyn Hamm of Arlington. Vasquez had said he was innocent of the murder and an accompanying burglary, but pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in February 1985 to avoid the electric chair.
New evidence, involving DNA testing, showed Spencer, dubbed the Southside Strangler for a series of murders in the Richmond area, was responsible for the Hamm slaying.
Spencer will not be charged for Hamm's murder because he already faces two death sentences, one for the 1987 Thanksgiving weekend rape and murder of another Arlington woman, Susan Tucker, and one for the September 1987 rape and murder of Debbie Davis of Richmond. He was living in a Richmond halfway house at the time.
Spencer was the first man convicted in Virginia using DNA testing, which had been used primarily for paternity cases.
Spencer also faces trial Jan. 17 for the murder of Dr. Elizabeth Hellams in Richmond, and later, a trial in Chesterfield County for the rape and murder of Diane Cho, 15.
Fahey said authorities began questioning Vasquez's guilt after similarities were discovered at the Tucker and Hamm murder scenes.
The nude body of Hamm, 32, a Washington lawyer, was found hanging from an overhead water pipe Jan. 25, 1984, in her Arlington apartment. Her hands were tied behind her, as were Tucker's, causing investigators to take a second look.
Genetic fingerprinting, DNA tests on semen found in Hamm's body, revealed Spencer to the perpetrator, and not Vasquez.
DNA, or deoxyribonucleic acid, is a compound found in human cells comprising a person's genetic makeup. Only identical twins are thought to have the same DNA, which can be extracted from sperm, white blood cells and hair roots.
The request for pardon was made with the approval of the Arlington County Police Department and the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, who prosecuted the case while serving as Arlington County prosecutor.
Vasquez had been housed at the Buckingham Correctional Center.