Museum Staff Helps Exonerate David Veney
January 19, 2023, Hunt Valley, MD — Staff members of the System Source Computer Museum
recently completed a project that helped exonerate David Veney, wrongly convicted of rape
in 1997. In 2005, after Mr. Veney sought a new trial, the state found irregularities in
the prosecution, released Mr. Veney from prison, and declined to re-prosecute.
Maryland is one of 35 states that provides compensation for wrongly incarcerated people.
But quirks in the law kept the law from applying in Mr. Veney’s case. In 2021, the
Maryland law was amended, making Mr. Veney eligible for partial compensation for the
nearly nine years he spent in prison. Still, Mr. Veney had not been exonerated..
In June 2022, the Computer Museum at System Source in Hunt Valley, MD, was contacted by
Patrick Gilbert, Senior Assistant States Attorney and Chief of the Prosecution Integrity
Unit, who asked “Can you read data from a 5.25” Floppy Disk?” Bob Roswell, curator of the
museum, quickly replied “Of course!”
It wasn’t quite that simple. In theory, the diskette contained the court stenographic
records from the 1992 rape trial of Grant Jones. The transcript was thought to contain
evidence that would exonerate both Mr. Jones and Mr. Veney, but the printed transcripts
from 1992 had been lost. Unfortunately, the diskette was neither IBM- nor
Apple-compatible. It had been written on a DEC PDP-11 minicomputer using the RSX-11
Operating System. Although the museum has a PDP-11 in its collection, it had not yet been
restored and could not be started. Brendan Becker, who runs the BLOOP museum inside the
Computer Museum, jumped on the problem.
Brendan set up a “Greaseweazle,” a device that reads the magnetic flux transitions on the
floppy disk without regard to operating systems, disk formats, or errors. The process
returned a file containing long binary strings of ones and zeros. Brendan was able to
decode the file structure and found that disk (despite some unreadable parts) contained
the raw keystrokes that the court stenographer had recorded in the 1992 rape case using a
Stenograph machine from the era. An operator of a Stenograph machine uses chords to
rapidly encode conversation by creating keystrokes to represent words, syllables, and
phrases. While there is some standardization, each stenographer has his/her own “theory,”
which results in individual styles for different stenographers.
Luckily, Patrick Gilbert was able to obtain the services of the stenographer from the
original trial (now retired). Together, they were able to substantially reconstruct the
transcript from the 1992 trial, using the data provided by Brendan. The recovered
transcript showed weird similarities to Mr. Veney’s case.
On March 4, 1992, Alice Arroyo claimed to have been raped while walking home from
volunteering at homeless shelter. In her account, the assailant grabbed her shirt, ripped
it open, and scratched her chest with his nails in a long, vertical raking motion. Ms.
Arroyo provided police with a detailed description of her assailant including the jacket
he was wearing. The following day Grant Jones walked into the Salisbury Police Department
(in Wicomico County, MD) to report that his wallet had gone missing from the homeless
shelter. Mr. Jones matched the description of the assailant, was arrested, and was
convicted of assault with intent to rape.
On September 24, 1996, Salisbury Police responded to a complaint at the home of Alice
Arroyo, who stated that she had been raped. Again, she provided a detailed description of
the assailant and described suffering scratches on her chest in a long vertical raking
motion. On October 3, 1996, David Veney, a former neighbor, was charged with rape. He
was 20 years old at the time.
Mr. Veney’s first trial in April 1997 ended in a mistrial. The hung jury consisted of four
jurors voting to convict and eight declaring him innocent.
In September 1997, Mr Veney was retried and found guilty of various charges, including
burglary, assault, battery, and rape. He was sentenced to 25 years for rape and
concurrent sentences for the other offenses.
In 2005, Mr. Veney sought a new trial on the basis of ineffective representation. (That
lawyer was later disbarred.) When the State reviewed the case, substantial doubts about
Mr. Veney’s guilt arose, including the eerie similarity in Ms. Arroyo’s testimony in the
two cases. Mr. Veney was released from prison, and the State declined to re-prosecute.
The reconstructed transcript of Mr. Jones’ 1992 trial proved vital in establishing Mr.
Veney’s innocence. On January 13, 2023, Judge Teresa Garland awarded Mr Veney
approximately $730,000, along with medical, housing, and educational benefits.
The staff of the Computer Museum at System Source is proud to have played a small part in
Mr. Veney’s exoneration. Bob Roswell, Curator, later learned that the state had contacted
numerous other technology firms, who were unable to render assistance, before asking the
Museum for assistance.
The Amendment to Maryland Law Regarding Compensation for Wrongful Convictions:
The System Source Computer Museum: