A Wallingford man who spent the last 20 years in prison was freed Wednesday after DNA evidence proves he didn’t commit the crime for which he was convicted.
Kenneth Ireland was convicted of rape and murder in 1989. At the time, police believed he raped and killed Barbara Pelkey, a mother of four from Wallingford. She was found dead in 1986 at the former R.S. Moulding and Manufacturing Company where she worked nights.
Robert Staneslow, the jury foreman at Ireland's trial, said convicting Ireland was a tough decision.
The jury deliberated for days over circumstantial evidence.
"There's no one piece of evidence that says, you can say yes, definitely, but if you put all of them together. I said there's too many coincidences," said Staneslow, when asked how the jury reached its verdict.
The verdict would have been different if the DNA evidence was available, he said.
"If there had been DNA evidence in that time period, there never would have been a trial for him. He would have been immediately let go," said Staneslow.
But police could only use the technology they had two decades ago.
“The technology wasn’t available at the time of this case. We had facts and circumstances back in 1986 to go on, the technology of 1986 vintage to go on. That’s what we used at the time,” said Lt. Marc Mikulski of the Wallingford Police Department.
When Wallingford Police heard the wrong man might have been behind bars, they worked with the Connecticut Innocence Project and the State’s Attorney’s Office to take another look at the evidence. When the DNA evidence came back, it showed Ireland could not have been the person who committed the crime.
“We never want to put an innocent person in jail or an innocent person convicted for a crime they didn’t commit,” said Lt. Mikulski.
Ireland will be given a new trial on Aug. 19. The prosecution is expected to drop the charges.
Now, Wallingford Police are left with a 23-year-old case to solve.
“We are going to reopen this cold case and use the 20 years plus advancement in technology and forensic technology to put fresh eyes on this case and bring it to a successful conclusion,” Mikulski said.
Police did contact Pelkey’s family. The new developments did open new wounds, but they are confident police will find the person who murdered their mother.
Ireland is back home with his family. A spokeswoman for the Connecticut Innocence Project said he already has a job lined up.
The Connecticut Innocence project also helped to free James Calvin Tillman in 2006, and Miguel Roman in April after they were imprisoned for crimes they did not commit.