Exonerated Charlotte man who served 25 years in prison sues city, investigators

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — A man who spent a quarter of a century behind bars is suing the city, and seeking a pardon in his quest to get his life back.

In 1991, a jury convicted a then 23-year-old Tim Bridges in the rape and beating of an elderly Charlotte woman. The evidence used in his trial has since come into question and prosecutors dismissed the indictments earlier this year.

However, the road back to normalcy has not been easy.

"Sometimes I wish I was back in [prison] it was a lot easier, I'm not going to lie," Bridges told Eyewitness News.

Bridges' attorney, David Rudolf, has now filed a lawsuit against the city of Charlotte and others involved in investigating the case. The lawsuit claims the case against Bridges was not just accidental or a mistake, but the result of "willful and malicious conduct".

"For 25 years he was forced to live a nightmare," the lawsuit says. The lawsuit gives a detailed timeline of the incident, arrest, trial and Bridges' life post-prison.

"I sleep two and a half hours maybe a night," Bridges said.

Case built largely on two hair follicles

On May 14, 1989 a family member found a 83-year-old handicapped woman naked and bloody in her home.

Police found a pack of cigarettes, a men's jacket, a pair of men's socks and a pair of glasses that didn't belong to the victim in the home. There was also a bloody palm print near a light switch on a wall in the bedroom that did not belong to the victim.

Bridges' palm print was one of around 50 belonging to young males that frequented the neighborhood that was sent to the Charlotte Police Department crime lab for tests. Bridges' palm print was not a match

The lawsuit claims that police were under pressure to quickly solve the case because of the "great deal of anxiety" the incident generated in the neighborhood.

In March of 1990, however, police had developed information from police informants that pointed to Bridges as the attacker. Bridges' attorneys said the informants were all drug addicts who had waited months to provide the information to officers and their "credibility was questionable at best."

After arresting Bridges, investigators said two of the head hairs recovered from the crime scene belonged to him.

In 2012, the FBI admitted that its hair analysts has testified in ways that "exceeded the limits of science." In 2014, a representative with the North Carolina Prisoner Legal Services filed a motion alleging that Bridges' due process was violated via that testimony.

A judge agreed that the testimony about the hair was a "centerpiece of the case" and the Mecklenburg County District Attorney's Office consented to the motion. The judge vacated the conviction and ordered a new trial. The DA later dismissed the indictments in 2016.

Bridges was free to see his family. However, four months prior to his release his mother had passed away.

"My mom, that's the hardest," Bridges said wiping away tears. "She was my world."

A 2015 CMPD analysis of DNA found at the scene found that semen, as well as DNA on clothing and on a cigarette butt, excluded Bridges as a possible contributor.

Pardon Sought

In the months since leaving prison, Bridges has struggled to get back on his feet. Finding a job is difficult. His resume has a 25-year-long gap.

"Out here, it's a totally different world. I don't know how to use computers, I don't even know how to use a real cellphone really," Bridges said.

He said he could now lose his house, unable to make rent.

Bridges' attorney, David Rudolf, told Eyewitness News that in addition to the federal lawsuit they have applied for a pardon of innocence from North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory. If granted, Bridges could receive compensation of around $50,000 a year for each year he is behind bars up to $750,000.

"The whole pardon of innocence project is designed to help someone like Tim get back on his feet and that's really what we're focused on," Rudolf said. "That would give him something to get started, maybe do some vocational training, try to get his life back on track."

The pardon could be a quicker way for Bridges to get compensation for his conviction than a victory in a federal lawsuit.

Attorneys for the individual defendants named in the federal lawsuit did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

A spokesperson for the city of Charlotte reached Monday said they do not typically respond to pending legal matters.

If the city is required to pay as the result of the lawsuit, an insurance policy would cover up to a certain amount.

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