By John Larrabee
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (Reuters) - A Rhode Island court on Monday overturned the 1992 murder conviction of the son of a former Providence sheriff on the basis of new DNA evidence in the case, raising the prospect of his imminent release after more than two decades in prison.
Raymond "Beaver" Tempest Jr., now 62, is serving an 85-year sentence after his conviction in 1982 murder of 22-year-old Doreen Picard, a case that rocked Rhode Island for a decade.
State Attorney General Peter Kilmartin has vowed to appeal the decision by Superior Court Judge Daniel A. Procaccini, who declined to release Tempest on bail on Monday and scheduled a bail hearing for Aug. 4.
"Raymond and his family are incredibly gratified," said Michael Kendall, one of Tempest's lawyers. "They waited 23 years to get their evidence into a courtroom, and they're pleased they were able to do so."
Tempest's attorneys worked pro bono on his case as members of the New England Innocence Project, an organization that works to free prison inmates who claim they were wrongly convicted.
During the hearing for post-conviction relief, they presented DNA evidence showing a hair found clutched in the murder victim's hand did not come from Tempest.
Picard was found dead in the basement of a Woonsocket apartment building. Her landlady, Susan LaFerte, was found unconscious nearby. Laferte survived, but a head injury prevented her from identifying the attacker.
Tempest became a suspect early on, but for years no one was charged.
Tempest had several close relatives working in law enforcement, including his father, Raymond Tempest Sr., who was then Providence County high sheriff.
Gordon Tempest, the suspect's brother and a Woonsocket police detective, was eventually convicted of perjury, with prosecutors charging he had destroyed evidence.
During the 1992 trial, prosecutors alleged Raymond Tempest told friends that he killed Picard using a lead pipe after she walked into the basement laundry room and found him beating Laferte. He was sentenced to 85 years in prison.
One of the lawyers working for Tempest's release is Betty Anne Waters, whose story was told in the 2010 movie "Conviction," starring Hilary Swank.
Waters, a high school dropout, returned to school and eventually earned a law degree so she could work to free her brother, a prison inmate serving life for murder.
(Editing by Frank McGurty)