PAWTUCKET, R.I. (WPRI) — For nearly four decades, a man convicted of raping a woman at knifepoint has maintained his innocence.

But now, Norberto Andrade’s attorneys believe advancements in forensic genealogy will finally exonerate the 61-year-old.

Andrade was arrested back in August 1985 for supposedly attacking a 19-year-old woman in her third-floor apartment. The victim described her assailant as being 5 feet, 4 inches tall with brown skin and a Portuguese accent.

Then 24, Andrade was charged with rape after the victim identified him in a photo lineup. In 1987, he was sentenced to life in prison.

Michael Zarella, Andrade’s former lawyer, told 12 News he spent years searching for the forensic evidence connected to the investigation.

“The only way he was going to get it flipped was through DNA evidence,” Zarella said.

Zarella, who was appointed as Andrade’s lawyer in 2017, reached out to Pawtucket police and the Rhode Island Department of Health in an effort to track it down. He even searched a vault at Providence Superior Court known to store older evidence.

But all of his efforts fell short.

That is, until he decided to subpoena the court.

“I made the decision to subpoena it, even though they said they didn’t have it,” Zarella said. “Seven days later, I got a call from the Attorney General’s Office … they found the DNA.”

It was a moment that Zarella was unsure would ever come.

“The first Hail Mary was to find it, because we weren’t able to find it for so long,” he said. “Even more was that there was actually still DNA evidence on this person’s fingernail 39 years later.”

And there was.

Stefanie Murphy, Andrade’s current lawyer, submitted the DNA evidence to the Health Department, along with a DNA sample from Andrade.

Earlier this month, the Health Department confirmed the two samples did not match.

“There wasn’t enough DNA in the fingernail clippings to produce a profile, but there was male DNA found underneath the victim’s fingernails and it was enough to exclude [Andrade],” Murphy said.

Now that Murphy and Zarella found evidence to prove Andrade’s innocence, the two have another major hurdle to overcome: deportation.

“As soon as he’s released from state custody … he’ll be deported,” Murphy said. “No hearing, no nothing. All of those decisions were previously made.”

Murphy said Andrade, who was born in Portugal, has lived in the United States since he was 5 years old. His sister and brother-in-law still live in Rhode Island.

Murphy said Andrade already has a job lined up should he be released from prison, adding that they’re not asking for bail to be set until they are able to exonerate him and flip his deportation order.

“The least they could do is remove the deportation order and let him stay in the country” Zarella said.

Andrade has maintained his innocence since he was first arrested, writing letters and motions to the court every chance he could.

“It just shows that he was adamant he didn’t do it. Thirty-nine years later, the DNA evidence under the fingernail wasn’t his,” Zarella said.

12 News reached out to the Attorney General’s Office for a statement regarding the findings, to which a spokesperson said, “we are evaluating the DNA results in the context of all of the evidence introduced at trial. We have no further comment at this time.”