By Emily Tadlock
On Sept. 15, 1999 Ronjon Cameron said he was walking with a friend to a convenient store. While he was reaching in the cooler, a detective tapped him on the shoulder and asked him his name. After that, Ronjon Cameron started a more than 14-year battle for his innocence.
A woman in Pittsfield, Mass. reported that on Sept. 13, 1999 she was raped by Cameron in his apartment. The apartment that Cameron was living in was owned by the deaf and partially blind woman’s boyfriend who had made an agreement with Cameron that he could live there while he was in prison according to court records.
The police report stated that the assault was said to have lasted two to five minutes, then the woman left. She didn’t tell her roommate what happened until two days later. At that point her roommate escorted her to the police station where they collected her clothes and took pictures of bruises on the victim’s back and rug burns on her knees. She didn’t visit a physician until Sept. 20,seven days after the alleged attack.
Cameron went on trial at Berkshire County court in March of 2003, charged with two counts of rape.
The following is an account of the trial from the Innocence Project:
“After the woman recounted the details of the rape, the defense sought to question her about her prior sexual activity because DNA testing had shown the presence of seminal fluids from two males. Cameron’s defense attorney argued that the woman fabricated the account of Cameron’s attack to keep her imprisoned boyfriend from finding out she had sex with someone else, but the judge refused to allow the questioning.
“Dr. Mark Liponis, an emergency room physician at the Berkshire Medical Center testified that that he found a six-centimeter scratch on the woman’s left leg and small bruises on her left shin. He also noted there were ‘no external signs of trauma,’ but said that unless the assault was extremely traumatic, it was unlikely for signs of trauma to be present a week afterward.
‘The prosecution also presented testimony from a chemist at the Massachusetts State Crime Laboratory. The chemist said that seminal fluid had been found in two locations on the woman’s underwear.
‘The underwear was then sent for DNA testing at a private laboratory. A DNA analyst testified that the results indicated the presence of DNA from at least two males. The analyst said a primary sample excluded Cameron, but that a second sample neither included nor excluded him.
“Cameron testified in his own defense and denied sexually assaulting the woman. He said he did not see her on the day of the alleged attack and had never had sexual intercourse with her.”
On April 2, 2003 Cameron was found guilty on both counts of rape. He was sentenced to 12-16 years in prison.
Fighting for his life
After going to prison several motions and appeals were filed on Cameron’s behalf; all of them were denied. Cameron was discouraged but would not give up on proving his innocence. He hung papers in his cell to keep motivated.
In 2010, the New England Innocence Project (NEIP) along with several other lawyers took on Cameron’s case. A more substantial DNA test was done on the secondary source that had neither included nor excluded him. The results were exculpatory, meaning Cameron could not have been the source. The DNA found was that of a woman. Cameron said, “I spent 14 years in prison for a female’s DNA.”
Stephanie Hartung, a Suffolk University Law School professor and a board member for the NEIP explained the difficulty in which Cameron, the NEIP, and a team of law students had getting Cameron freed from prison.
Fighting for his innocence
Even though Cameron is technically a free man, he is still not considered innocent. The district attorney from Berkshire County will not grant Cameron a new trial based on the fact that he cannot get the victim to testify.
Despite the setbacks, Cameron said he will continue to fight for his innocence, not so much for himself but for his family’s sake. Without his exoneration status though, Cameron faces a lot of financial issues.
Massachusetts has a compensation law that allows exonerated individuals $500,000 to help put their lives back together. “The state allows us a measly half a million dollars to make up for everything I lost while I was locked up,” said Cameron. “Because I was in prison I couldn’t support my family, I couldn’t send my kids to college, and now I can’t even get the little bit of help the state offers because a DA won’t admit he was wrong.”
As a convicted rapist, Cameron also faces an uphill battle if he decides to get a job. “My life will never be the same,” he said. “They stole my life from me. I’m trying to piece it back together, but there’s really nothing left for me. My family is all I have now,” Cameron said.