Gilbert Duane Harris Credit: Booking photo / Harrison County Sheriff's Office

Charges against a man filed last year in the 1982 rape of a University of Oklahoma student were dismissed this week after a judge ruled that the statute of limitations at the time of the crime should be applied.

An inquiry by Oklahoma Watch into the wrongful conviction of a man for the rape had led Norman police to investigate further, which resulted in the arrest of a Louisiana suspect last year.

Gilbert Duane Harris, 59, was charged in Cleveland County with first-degree rape and forcible sodomy in the case after DNA analysis linked him to the crime decades after it occurred, prosecutors said.

Judge Lori Walkley stated in her ruling that the statute of limitations in effect at the time of the crime meant charges could only have been filed against Gilbert up to March 19, 1985. She dismissed the charges on Tuesday.

“Any identification of the defendant did not occur until well after the statute of limitations had expired, thus preventing the state from being able to proceed with any prosecution,” Walkley wrote in her order.

In 1982, a rapist gained access to the victim’s Norman apartment, struck her and threatened her with a knife before sexually assaulting her. That victim identified Oklahoma City resident Thomas Webb as the perpetrator from a police photo lineup.

Although Webb, 22, had an alibi and no history of sexual assault, he was arrested, convicted and sentenced to prison for 60 years.

DNA testing requested by Webb in 1996 proved his innocence and he was released.

Harris was first implicated in the crime in 2006, when law enforcement in Louisiana entered his DNA into a national database and it matched the DNA profile from the Norman rape.

The match was reported to the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, which in turn reported it to the Cleveland County District Attorney’s Office. The Norman Police Department, which held the evidence, was never contacted and no charges were filed, according to court records.

According to court records, in August 1983 Harris raped a Norman girl who was under age 14 at a time when he was working as a City of Norman sanitation worker. Webb was behind bars when that rape occurred.

As part of a plea deal, Harris was sentenced to seven years in prison for that rape, records show.

After Oklahoma Watch inquired about the case, the Norman Police Department reopened the case. Charges were filed against Gilbert in 2014 and he was arrested in Biloxi, Miss., and transported to Oklahoma in October 2014.

According to court records, Gilbert said he once lived in Norman but did not remember the victim and denied the allegations of rape.

Support our publication

Every day we strive to produce journalism that matters — stories that strengthen accountability and transparency, provide value and resonate with readers like you.

This work is essential to a better-informed community and a healthy democracy. But it isn’t possible without your support.

Creative Commons License

Republish our articles for free, online or in print, under a Creative Commons license.