DNA Evidence Frees Man Wrongfully Convicted of Rape After 50 Years

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In a remarkable turn of events stretching back almost 50 years, a New York judge has recently overturned the conviction of Leonard Mack, a man wrongfully accused of rape. Fresh DNA evidence has not only conclusively proven Mack’s innocence but also lead to the identification and confession of the actual culprit.

Leonard Mack, now 72, suffered a grievous miscarriage of justice, serving over seven years following his erroneous conviction for the 1975 rape of a high school girl in Greenburgh, along with an associated weapons charge. Despite the damaging verdict from the jury, Mack unyieldingly maintained his innocence.

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Only last year, the district attorney’s office initiated a review into Mack’s continued assertion of innocence. The ensuing discoveries were unquestionably flattering to Mack’s claims. Re-examined DNA evidence excluded him as the attacker, and investigators noticed serious flaws in the original investigation and prosecution process. Eyewitness identifications initially presented were found to have been influenced by suggestive and problematic policing methods.

Remarkably, Mack’s exoneration coincided with his 72nd birthday, and he confessed that his unwavering belief in the revelation of truth never wavered. His relief was evident in his poignant words: “Today has been a long time coming. I lost over seven years of my life in prison for a crime I did not commit and I have lived with this injustice for nearly 50 years,”. Now, with the truth unearthed, Mack is breathing easier, flourishing in his newfound freedom.

As a Vietnam War veteran, Mack has lived in South Carolina with his wife for nearly 21 years. However, he candidly admits the profound impact of his wrongful conviction, significantly altering the trajectory of his life and affecting his familial relationships.

The Innocence Project, instrumental in reintroducing Mack’s case to the district attorney, stated that Mack’s wrongful conviction holds the record for the longest to be overturned based on newly discovered DNA evidence.

In a stunning revelation, the district attorney’s office revealed that the reassessed DNA evidence was a match for another Westchester man, already convicted of two separate sexual crimes in 1975 and 2004. Confronted by an investigator with the findings, the man confessed to the 1975 Greenburgh rape.

Because of New York’s statutes of limitation, the new suspect cannot be charged for the 1975 offence. However, he remains in custody currently being prosecuted for failure to register as a sex offender for the 2004 sexual crime.

Reflecting on the remarkable overturning of Mack’s wrongful conviction, Westchester County District Attorney Miriam E. Rocah attributed the accomplishment to Mack’s indomitable spirit and tenacity. She shares her belief that wrongful convictions only serve to amplify societal uncertainty and insecurity.

In May 1975, two high school girls were abducted and held at gunpoint in a secluded woodland area in Greenburgh, New York. The man assaulted one of the girls twice before fleeing, leaving the other girl to manage a daring escape, alerting a teacher who promptly called the police.

The mistakenly identified man was described as a Black man in his early 20s, with close-cropped hair, a clean shave, clad in black pants, a tan jacket, a black hat, with a gold earring in his left ear. Shortly after the incident, an officer arrested Mack, whose appearance bore a vague resemblance to the suspect description. Although his attire did not match that of the offender, a revolver was found in Mack’s car leading to his arrest.

Unfortunately, problematic identification procedures, including photo arrays and lineups, resulted in the victims misidentifying Mack as the assailant. One witness was even legally blind. The Innocence Project highlights this type of misleading eyewitness misidentification as a significant contributor to wrongful convictions, responsible for 64% of their 245 exonerations and releases.

A comprehensive study of over 3000 exonerations since 1989 indicates that Black Americans are seven times more likely than white Americans to be falsely convicted of serious crimes. This eye-opening statistic featured in a 2022 report by the National Registry of Exonerations.