Sherman Brown, a Vietnam veteran who is now 69, was convicted of a horrific crime in Albemarle County in 1970, after he came back from the war. The 22-year-old stood accused of stabbing to death a 4-year-old boy, and beating and stabbing the boy's mother, in an alleged sexual assault.

But new DNA evidence discovered by a private investigator employed by the University of Virginia School of Law Innocence Project may lead to the man's release from prison. The project's yearlong clinic provides students, working with professionals, practical experience in the investigation and litigation of wrongful convictions of inmates throughout Virginia.

The female victim lived in Crozet and was brought to the University of Virginia's medical center after the 1969 assault. Medical professionals collected a sample from the victim, which included sperm, and the clinic found the slide stored at the UVA Department of Pathology last year. Testing indicated that the DNA did not belong to Brown.

"Lisa Inlow, one of the private investigators who worked with us a lot, through many Herculean efforts, found the slide that still existed that had sperm that is going to exonerate Sherman Brown," said Deirdre Enright, the clinic's director of investigations.

In a recent petition Brown filed with the Virginia Supreme Court, he says the evidence proves what he has always maintained — that he didn't commit the crime. Brown was convicted based on now-discredited hair and fiber analysis, and eyewitness testimony from the female victim that Brown says was mistaken, and not DNA evidence. If Brown is exonerated, he will be among the ­longest-serving prisoners to be cleared of a crime in the history of the United States.

The Innocence Project in New York is handling the DNA-based case, which predates the Law School's clinic, with assistance from Steven Rosenfield, a Charlottesville lawyer; the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project in Washington; and the D.C. law firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom.

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Founded in 1819, the University of Virginia School of Law is the second-oldest continuously operating law school in the nation. Consistently ranked among the top law schools, Virginia is a world-renowned training ground for distinguished lawyers and public servants, instilling in them a commitment to leadership, integrity and community service.