DNA Test Frees Leonard Mack of Erroneous 50-Year Conviction for Rape

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Marking nearly half a century since his erroneous conviction for rape, the conviction of Leonard Mack has been rescinded by a New York judge. The shift comes in the wake of fresh DNA testing which not only exonerated Mack but pinpointed another suspect who, now confronted, has admitted guilt, as was announced by the prosecutors.

Having spent more than seven years behind the bars of a New York prison, the now 72-year-old Mack was previously found guilty of the 1975 sexual assault of a high school girl in Greenburgh, along with an associated weapons charge, reveals the District Attorney’s Office in Westchester County.

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Mack’s cry for vindication spurred the District Attorney’s office to reassess his case last year. Subsequent DNA testing squarely excluded Mack as the perpetrator and highlighted that the initial investigation and prosecution hinged on eyewitness identifications that were compromised by the flawed and suggestive methods deployed by the police, as declared by the office in a recent press release.

Mack, enjoying his exoneration on his 72nd birthday, maintained that his faith in establishing his innocence never dithered. “After being robbed of seven and a half years of my freedom for a crime I did not commit, I’ve lived under the oppressive cloud of this injustice for nearly 50 years,” he shared in a statement facilitated by the Innocence Project, an organization that advocates for the exoneration of falsely convicted individuals and campaigned actively for Mack’s cause. He emphasized that with the truth finally unmasked, he can now breathe, having attained liberty at last.

Being a veteran of the Vietnam War, Mack has resided in South Carolina with his wife for close to 21 years, as per the Innocence Project. He asserts that the unwarranted conviction has left an indelible imprint on his life, altering everything from his residence to his family relationships.

Based on their familiarity with analogous cases, the Innocence Project considers Mack’s wrongful conviction to be the longest one to have been overturned owing to new DNA evidence.

The new DNA evidence connected the investigators to a man from Westchester who was already convicted for a separate rape in 1975 and another sexual offense in 2004. On being questioned by an investigator, the man confessed to being the perpetrator of the 1975 rape in Greenburgh, as divulged in the latest release by the District Attorney’s office.

Resulting from the stipulations of New York’s statute of limitations, the newly identified suspect cannot be prosecuted for the crime committed in 1975. However, the suspect is currently being detained and faces prosecution for failing to register as a sex offender subsequent to his 2004 sex crime, as per an update from the District Attorney’s office.

Miriam E. Rocah, the District Attorney of Westchester County, attributed the revelation of Mack’s innocence to the latter’s indefatigable resilience in seeking to clear his name, demonstrated over nearly 50 years. She lamented that such wrongful convictions only perpetuate insecurity amongst the public, and are detrimental to the wrongly convicted individuals as well.

On May 22, 1975, a man coerced two high school girls with a gun and restrained them in a woodland region of Greenburgh, New York, shares the Innocence Project. Following the assault, the perpetrator absconded, allowing the other girl to extricate herself and flee to a nearby school, where she raised the alarm with a teacher’s assistance.

A man, described as a black man in his early 20s sporting short hair, a clean-shaven face, a handgun, black trousers, a tan jacket, a black and white hat, and a gold earring in his left ear, was sought by the Greenburgh Police Department. Around two hours post the assault, a police officer apprehended Mack who was wearing a black fedora and a gold earring in his left ear, despite the rest of his attire not matching the victims’ description.

The victims, one of whom was legally blind, ultimately identified Mack via a sequence of problematic identification procedures, including photo arrays and lineups. The Innocence Project emphasizes that inaccurate identification by eyewitnesses, as demonstrated in this case, is primarily responsible for 64% of its 245 exonerations and releases.

A comprehensive study of more than 3,000 exonerations since 1989 reveals that Black Americans are seven times more likely to be falsely convicted for serious crimes in comparison to white Americans, as chronicled in a 2022 report by the National Registry of Exonerations.