Leonard Mack was falsely convicted of rape over 50 years ago, but fresh DNA evidence that excluded him as the offender and identified another man who later confessed to the crime led a fresh York judge to reverse that decision, according to the prosecution.
According to the Westchester County District Attorney’s Office, a jury found 72-year-old Mack guilty of raping a high school student in Greenburgh in 1975 and a related weapons offense. He was sentenced to more than seven years in prison in New York.
The district attorney’s office conducted DNA testing that “conclusively excluded” Mack as the rapist after opening a review of Mack’s claim to innocence last year. The office also discovered that the initial investigation and prosecution relied on eyewitness identifications that were “tainted by problematic and suggestive procedures used by the police,” the office said in a release.
Mack claimed he never gave up hope that his innocence would be established. His exoneration occurred on the same day as his 72nd birthday.
It has taken a while for today to arrive. In a statement provided by the Innocence Project, a group that works to clear the names of those who have been wrongfully imprisoned and presented Mack’s case to the DA, Mack said that he had wasted seven and a half years of his life in prison for a crime he did not commit.
“Now that the truth is out, I can finally breathe. Finally, he exclaimed, “I am liberated.
According to the Innocence Project, Mack is a veteran of the Vietnam War and has resided in South Carolina with his wife for close to 21 years. He said that the erroneous conviction had a permanent influence on his life.
“It changed the course of my life — everything from where I lived to my relationship with my family,” Mack remarked.
The Innocence Project claimed that Mack’s erroneous conviction was the longest to be reversed by fresh DNA evidence based on its knowledge of comparable instances.
According to the district attorney’s office, investigators were able to connect the fresh DNA test findings to a Westchester man who had previously been found guilty of a separate rape in 1975 and another sex crime in 2004. The man admitted to the 1975 Greenburgh rape during an interrogation with a detective, according to the press statement.
The new suspect is currently in custody and is being tried for failing to register as a sex offender linked to the 2004 sex crime, but he cannot be tried for the 1975 incident due to New York’s statute of limitations.
The finding of Mack’s innocence, according to Westchester County District Attorney Miriam E. Rocah, was made possible by his “unwavering strength fighting to clear his name for almost 50 years.”
In a statement last week, Rocah stated that the exoneration “confirms that wrongful convictions are not only harmful to the wrongly convicted but also make us all less safe.”
The 1975 incident
According to the Innocence Project, on May 22, 1975, a man held two high school girls at gunpoint and tied them up in a wooded area in Greenburgh, New York. The organization said that the man sexually assaulted one of the kids twice before departing the scene, leaving the other child to escape and run to a nearby school where a teacher dialed 911.
According to the Innocence Project, the Greenburgh Police Department looked for a suspect who was described as a Black man in his early 20s with clean-shaven, close-cropped hair, and a handgun. He was also wearing black pants, a tan jacket, a black hat with a white brim, and a gold earring in his left ear.
A policeman stopped Mack, who was sporting a black fedora and a gold earring in his left ear, around two hours after the rape. According to the Innocence Project, the officer claimed he found a pistol in Mack’s car and that Mack suited the suspect description despite the fact that his attire did not match that of the victims.
According to the Innocence Project, the victims, including one who was legally blind, later recognized Mack through a number of “problematic identification procedures,” such as picture arrays and lineups.
“Eyewitness misidentification, as in this case, is the leading contributing factor of wrongful convictions and has contributed to 64% of the Innocence Project’s 245 exonerations and releases,” the organization claimed.
According to a 2022 report by the National Registry of Exonerations, a survey of more than 3,000 exonerations since 1989 revealed that Black Americans are seven times more likely than white Americans to be wrongfully convicted of severe crimes.