Woman who lied about rape dies

May 20, 2008 5:04:28 PM PDT
Cathleen Crowell Webb, the woman who accused Gary Dotson of rape in 1977 and later recanted, has died. Crowell Webb died last week in New Hampshire from cancer. She was 46.

When Crowell Webb was 16 years old, she claimed that she was abducted and raped. Dotson went to prison for the crime until Webb admitted she made up the story.

Dotson later became the first man ever to be exonerated by DNA evidence.

Dotson was 20 years old when Webb pointed him out as the man who had supposedly raped her.

"Gary Dotson is the first person in the world to be exonerated, of a crime he didn't commit, by DNA," said Rob Warden, Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University Law School. "He was the first; that's what makes this case important."

But DNA science was in its infancy then.

Warden followed the case that first broke on ABC7. It was our late colleague Jim Gibbons who broke the story of Webb recanting her testimony, admitting that she lied. She had lied to cover up the fact that she'd had consensual sex with her boyfriend at the time.

"I just want to thank her," Dotson said in March, 1985.

But Webb's admission of the lie wasn't enough to get Dotson off the hook.

Later, she even co-authored a book titled "Forgive Me" and gave the proceeds to Dotson.

"From much personal reading of the scripture and praying, personally, I feel that the Lord gave me the strength to come forward," Webb said at the time.

Televised hearings were held by then-governor Jim Thompson, attracting international media attention. Thompson eventually commuted Dotson's sentence to time served. But it wouldn't be until three years later that DNA testing would prove Dotson's innocence, even if his life was forever changed.

"He really wants to stay under the radar now, wants to put this behind him," said Warden.

Warden says Dotson is living quietly in the far south suburbs.

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