LOUISVILLE, Ky., Aug. 17 (RNS)--A Kentucky man who was sentenced to 70 years inprison for the rape and attempted rape of two women, and who had beenincarcerated for the crime for more than six years, has been orderedreleased and granted a new trial because of DNA evidence--evidencethat came to light after a retired Presbyterian theology professorhelped raise more than $5,000 to have the testing done.

"It's almost miraculous the way it happened," said George Edwards, aretired professor from Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, whoworked, along with his wife, Jean, for five years to raise enough moneyfor the DNA testing. "We didn't dream when we went down there," for acourt hearing that the judge would set William Gregory free.

Gregory, 52, was released from prison in July and granted a newtrial after DNA testing, done on six strands of hair found in apantyhose stocking that the rapist wore to cover his face during one ofthe attacks, excluded Gregory as the source of the hair. The kind of DNAtesting performed on the hairs wasn't available at the time of hisoriginal trial.

During that trial, the victims of the crimes--women who were 71and 20 when they were assaulted, and who lived at the same apartmentcomplex in which Gregory lived--both identified Gregory as the man whoattacked them.

Gregory's case drew the support of lawyer Barry Scheck, co-founderof the New York-based Innocence Project. Gregory, a former salesman, isthe first Kentucky convict and the 74th in the United States and Canadato be released from prison because of new DNA evidence.

The whole experience "has strengthened my faith and strengthened mybelief in God," said Gregory, who's now living in an apartment donatedby a man who heard of Gregory's story through the media. Because ofwhat's happened, "I know that I can endure anything. I know that Godanswers prayer in his time, not mine."

Gregory has spent the first weeks of his release telling his storyto the media and to church groups and taking a crash course intechnological change.

He said it's been "kind of rough" learning all at once how to usecellular phones and ATM machines and the self check-out line at thegrocery store.

Edwards, who taught New Testament and New Testament Greek atLouisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary for close to 30 years,until he retired in 1985, became aware of Gregory's case through anotherinmate, Cullen Ray.

Ray participated in a New Testament study that Edwards taught someyears ago in a Kentucky prison as a volunteer. The two became friends,and kept up their correspondence after Ray transferred to another prison-- Northpoint Training Center in Burgin, Ky. There, Ray met Gregory andbecame convinced Gregory had been convicted as the result of mistakenidentity.

Ray began lobbying his friends George and Jean Edwards topush for more sophisticated DNA testing that possibly could set a man he believed innocent free.

All together, six hairs were found in the stocking used in the attack.

Initially, DNA testing could not be used because at the time suchtesting required using the roots of the hair. After Gregory'sconviction, a new form of mitochrondrial DNA testing was developed,which involves extracting DNA from human cells and can be done from theshafts of hair.

The Edwardses set about trying to raise enough money for the new testto be done.

Edwards and his wife worked for five years to raise the more than$5,000 needed to pay for tests to be run on one piece of hair--moneythey raised mostly in $5 and $10 and $20 donations from Catholics,Unitarians, Mennonites, Episcopalians, "and quite a few Presbyterians," Edwards said in an interview.

After that test excluded Gregory as the source of thehair, the Innocence Project filed a motion for a new trial, and thecommonwealth's attorney's office in Louisville spent $9,200 to test thefive other hairs.

When the additional DNA testing revealed that all of the hairs foundin the socking worn by the rapist came from one person, but none of themfrom Gregory, Jefferson Circuit Judge Barry Willett ordered Gregoryfreed from prison on July 5 and granted a new trial.

"He never showed his temper, but you know, he has deep wounds,"Edwards said.

For the first three years he was in prison, Gregory said, he feltangry and bitter toward the women who accused him. But he gradually cameto forgive them, because "I had to look through their eyes in order tounderstand what they were doing."

Since his release, Gregory has spoken often of his religious faith. In an interview, he said his uncle is apreacher and he regularly attended a Holiness church in West Virginia asa boy. He went to a Baptist church for a time as an adult, "but you fallaway and then you come back," Gregory said.

He said he came back to faith in prison, because "I didn't haveanywhere to turn. God puts us through a lot of adversity in order tomake you realize that God is there for you."