After almost half a century since being erroneously convicted for rape, Leonard Mack’s conviction has been reversed by a New York judge. The turnaround was made possible thanks to DNA testing technology that conclusively confirmed Mack’s innocence. The test identified another man as the guilty party, who has since confessed to the crime.
At 72 years old, Mack has spent more than seven years of his life behind bars. He was sentenced after being wrongfully found guilty for a rape crime committed in 1975 against a high school girl in Greenburgh. He was also charged with a related weaponry offense, Westchester County District Attorney’s Office reported.
Delving into Mack’s claim of innocence were the authorities who, last year, undertook a thorough review of the case. The district attorney’s office led DNA testing that not only confirmed Mack was not the culprit, but also exposed problematic issues with the original investigation and prosecution. The eyewitness identifications, on which the case was largely based, were tainted by suggestive procedures employed by the police at the time.
On the day of his exoneration which coincided with his 72nd birthday, Mack maintained he had always clung to hope that his innocence would ultimately be vindicated. “I lost over seven years of my life in prison for a crime I did not commit. This hangover of injustice has loomed over me for nearly 50 years,” Mack said. “With the truth finally disclosed, I can breathe at last. I am finally free,” he added.
Mack, a veteran of the Vietnam War, has shared his life with his wife in South Carolina for the past 21 years. He underscored that the wrongful conviction had a profound and irreversible impact on his life. “From where I lived to my rapport with my family, it changed the course of my life,” he elucidated.
Based on their accumulated knowledge, the Innocence Project – an organization devoted to vindicating the wrongfully convicted and who brought Mack’s case to the district attorney – stated that this is the longest case to be overturned due to fresh DNA evidence.
The DNA test revealed that the perpetrator was a Westchester man already convicted of a separate rape in 1975 and another sex crime in 2004. Faced with this new evidence, the man confessed to the 1975 Greenburgh rape.
As per New York’s statute of limitations, the newly identified perpetrator cannot be prosecuted for the decades-old crime. However, the individual is currently being prosecuted for neglecting to register as a sex offender, a requirement stemming from their 2004 sex offense.
Westchester County District Attorney Miriam E. Rocah praised Mack for his steadfast determination to clear his name over the past five decades. “This exoneration not only confirms that wrongful convictions are detrimental to the innocent, but they compromise all our safety,” Rocah highlighted.
On the fateful day of May 22, 1975, a man held two high school girls hostage at gunpoint in a wooded area of Greenburgh, New York. After violating one girl twice, he ran away from the scene. The other girl managed to break free and find help at a nearby school.
Police were on the lookout for a man meeting the victims’ description — a young black male in his early 20s with short hair and a clean-shaven look. They were also provided details of his attire. A couple of hours post the incident, Mack was pulled over and arrested though he didn’t match the victims’ description accurately. Flaws in the identification process, including photo arrays and lineups, led to Mack being misidentified by the victims.
The Innocence Project pointed out that misidentification by eyewitnesses, as seen in Mack’s case, is a leading cause of wrongful convictions and has been a factor in 64% of the organization’s 245 exonerations and releases. Studies further show that Black Americans are seven times more prone than white Americans to be wrongfully convicted for serious crimes, as per a 2022 report by the National Registry of Exonerations.