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DNA frees man falsely jailed for 22 years

by Beth Fouly Saturday, Jul. 08, 2006 at 5:43 AM


Judge Releases Wrongfully Convicted Man

Jul 6, 12:24 PM (ET)


NEW YORK (AP) - A judge signed an order Thursday freeing a man who has spent more than two decades in prison after being wrongfully convicted of brutally raping a woman.

Judge John Byrne signed the order in Bronx Criminal Court while Alan Newton, 44, stood quietly with his attorney. His family whooped loudly in the crowded courtroom when he first appeared, dressed in a beige suit with a bright blue shirt.

After his courtroom appearance, Newton had to await paperwork that would let him to walk out of the courthouse as a free man.

The nonprofit Innocence Project and prosecutors from the Bronx district attorney's office had asked for Newton's 1985 conviction to be vacated based on recent testing on a rape kit used for the woman.

Newton was convicted of raping the 25-year-old woman in an abandoned Bronx building in 1984 and was sentenced to up to 40 years in prison.

In 1994 he filed a motion asking that new DNA testing be conducted, but the request was denied because the evidence was unavailable, the Innocence Project and prosecutors wrote in court papers.

A similar request was granted four years later, but testing of the victim's clothing "failed to yield the presence of male DNA," the papers said.

At the request of the Innocence Project, the Bronx district attorney's office last year asked the New York Police Department's property clerk division to search for the rape kit at an evidence warehouse in Queens.

The result "conclusively excludes" Newton as the assailant, according to the papers.


Freed by DNA, and Expressing Compassion for Rape Victim


Published: July 7, 2006

Before Alan Newton was taken out of his holding cell and escorted into a Bronx courtroom yesterday, three other criminal cases had to be adjudicated — of people charged with theft, drug possession and assault.

Ozier Muhammad/The New York Times

Alan Newton in the Bronx Thursday, free after 22 years in prison.

He blinked in the courtroom's bright light and appeared tense as lawyers talked on either side of him.

His lawyer, Vanessa Potkin — of the Innocence Project, a legal service that seeks to free convicts through DNA evidence — told the judge that newly tested DNA evidence had cleared her client of the 1984 rape, robbery and assault charges on which he had been sentenced to 13 1/3 to 40 years.

The prosecutor, Elisa Koenderman, agreed. Judge John N. Byrne of Bronx Criminal Court looked at the defendant for a moment and said, "Motion is granted," concluding Mr. Newton's improbable journey into the recesses of the American criminal justice system, and back.

It took another two hours for Mr. Newton, 44, to walk out a free man: Judge Byrne had to sign the release order, the court clerk had to fax it to the city's Department of Correction, and various papers had to be stamped and filed in triplicate.

And then, Mr. Newton walked out of the courtroom — not into the wonder of a sun-splashed day, as may have been the story's cinematic conclusion, but into a dark corner of a Bronx courthouse where journalists were waiting for a man who had spent the Bloomberg, Giuliani and Dinkins years, and a part of the Koch administration, behind bars.

He wore a blue shirt, a yellow tie and a beige Calvin Klein suit bought for him by Bobby Thomas, his best friend from childhood. The suit was a bit loose, in contrast to the close-fitting versions favored by Mr. Newton when he worked as a bank teller before his arrest.

One of the first things Mr. Newton said at the news conference was how bad he felt for the victim, identified as "V J," though his conviction had rested largely on her identification of him and on her trial testimony.

The victim, who selected Mr. Newton's picture from about 200 photographs of potential suspects in 1984, acknowledged that on the night of the attack she had drunk about 11 beers and had also taken Dilantin, an epilepsy medication, which is not to be mixed with alcohol.

But yesterday, even before he was asked about the victim, Mr. Newton said he was sorry his exoneration "opens an old wound and denies her closure."

Mr. Newton said he wanted a home-cooked meal prepared by one of his sisters, but he settled yesterday afternoon for a meal at Amy Ruth's, a soul food restaurant in Harlem.

He also wanted to visit the World Trade Center site, in part because he had once worked at the trade center for New York Telephone Company, which has long since ceased to exist.

Mr. Newton also visited his wife, to whom he was married about 10 years ago, while he was in prison.

Most important, he said, he wanted to see his mother's grave in New Jersey. She died shortly after he was sent to prison.

"The stress killed her," said Mr. Newton's brother, Anthony Newton. "It's that simple."

For his part, Alan Newton seemed intent on moving forward. "I try not to stay angry," he said, "because if you stay angry, you can't grow."

He hopes to finish the five courses he needs to earn a bachelor's degree in business administration. He started taking college courses after he was sent to prison, at age 23.

In prison, Mr. Newton had repeatedly rejected a slot in a sex offender treatment program, which could have led to an early release. He thought it would have been tantamount to an admission of guilt, he said yesterday.

On many days in prison, family members said, Mr. Newton grew deeply depressed, but he said yesterday that he had never entirely given up on the possibility that he would be freed. "I kept my hope alive," he said. "I just didn't know when it was going to happen."

Ms. Koenderman, chief prosecutor of sex crimes in the Bronx, said Mr. Newton's conviction was a tragedy. She was thanked repeatedly by Mr. Newton's defense team for helping to prod authorities to look for the DNA evidence that eventually led to his release.

The victim's "rape kit" was found in a police storage unit after the Police Department had repeatedly said it had been destroyed.

"My job is to see justice done, and if justice means exonerating someone, I'm not afraid to look at the evidence and get it done," she said. "We're here to see the ends of justice, no matter how that turns out."

After the news conference, Mr. Newton posed for photographs and shook the hands of strangers before jumping into a green Ford Explorer.

Soon he was chatting away on a cellphone, looking immediately comfortable with the unfamiliar device, as he was sped away down 161st Street toward Manhattan, looking like any other New Yorker.


The Bronx

DNA Evidence Frees Man Convicted Of Bronx Rape 21 Years Ago

July 06, 2006

A man wrongfully imprisoned for rape 21 years ago is now free.

A Bronx court released Alan Newton Thursday, throwing out his 1985 conviction and 40-year prison term after recent DNA tests conclusively proved that Newton was not guilty of raping and robbing a 25-year-old woman in the Bronx.

Newton has always maintained his innocence. He says he plans to sue over his wrongful conviction and how the NYPD handled evidence in his case.

The Bronx District Attorney has issued a statement saying it regrets Newton's wrongful imprisonment.

Now 44-years-old, Newton says he plans to enjoy some home cooked meals and will visit the New Jersey grave of his grandmother who died while he was in prison.

NY1’s Dean Meminger filed this report.

After 21 hard years behind bars, Alan Newton got his freedom back Thursday morning to cheers from his family.

“I knew I was innocent," he told reporters upon his release.

Newton was convicted in 1985 for raping and slicing the face of a woman in the Bronx. He continued to insist he was innocent, and in 1994 began requesting the rape kit done on the victim to be compared to his DNA.

But the NYPD Property Clerk's office continued to insist the kit could not be found and might have been destroyed.

Finally, Newton contacted the Innocence Project, a group of lawyers who look into cases of people who may have been wrongfully convicted. Police eventually found the rape kit, which did not match Newton's DNA. So he was finally exonerated.

“Tragically, it took 11 years to find the evidence," said Vanessa Potkin, an attorney with the Innocence Project.

Especially tragic because the rape kit turned up in the same bin that cops said they checked before.

After 21 years of being wrongfully locked up, the wide-eyed 44-four-year old says he tries not to be angry, but he does plan to sue.

“The false arrest and unjust conviction and the amount of time I served should serve as an example, because you have a lot of other brothers in the system who are truly innocent also, and their predicament needs to be brought to the forefront," said Newton.

“I'm glad he is finally vindicated,” said Grace Newton, the man’s sister. “I’m angry. Al may not be, but I am.”

Newton and his lawyers from the Innocence Project did especially thank Elisa Koenderman, who heads up the Bronx Distric Attorney's Sex Crime Unit. Although her job is to convict rapists, she did help locate the rape kit that resulted in Newton being released.

“It’s obviously a very emotional moment for everyone involved,” said Koenderman. “I feel grateful for being a part of finally seeing justice done for him, which I see as part of my job."

Newton said one of the first things he wanted to do as a free man was to sit down to a home style cooked meal. So his family brought him to Amy Ruth's soul food restaurant in Harlem.

Newton says he plans to finish his college education, which he started while in jail. He says he is only five classes away from earning his bachelor's degree.

After that, maybe he’ll go to law school.

- Dean Meminger


Yet another triumph for advocates



Alan Newton's release from jail yesterday after serving 21 years for a brutal rape he did not commit is just the latest victory for the New York-based Innocence Project.
The nonprofit, legal organization at Benjamin Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University has helped free 181 wrongly convicted prisoners - 19 in New York State.

It was created by Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld in 1992 to handle cases where postconviction DNA testing of evidence can yield conclusive proof of innocence.

Newton's exoneration came 21 years after his conviction and 12 years after his first motion for DNA testing was denied because the evidence in the case could not be located. Newton's brother, Tony, first visited the Innocence Project office and advocated for his brother.

"The bottom line is Alan Newton was innocent, wrongly convicted, and spent more than two decades in prison," said Innocence Project attorney Vanessa Potkin, who worked on the Newton case.

The rape victim in Newton's case had been swabbed as part of the routine criminal investigation. Yet the genetic evidence was never presented at Newton's trial.

Potkin said Newton had tried unsuccessfully to have the rape kit in his case tested since 1994, but the NYPD somehow couldn't find the evidence - even though cops eventually located it in the very spot it was supposed to be.

Since Newton's conviction in 1985, DNA testing has become more sophisticated.

Innocence Project spokesman Eric Ferrero said most of the Innocence Project clients are poor, forgotten and have used up all their legal avenues of relief. The project gets 25% of its funding from Cardozo and the remaining 75% from foundations and individuals.

For information about the Innocence Project, visit www.innocenceproject.org.

Originally published on July 7, 2006

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