Newton to be released in Bronx court this morning; case highlights ‘staggering and appalling’ problems in NYPD evidence storage
(BRONX, NY; June 6, 2006) – DNA tests prove that Alan Newton did not commit a rape, assault and robbery in the Bronx for which he was convicted in 1985 and sentenced to a total of 13 to 40 years in prison, the Innocence Project said today.
Thursday morning, June 6, the Innocence Project and the Bronx District Attorney’s Office will file a joint motion to vacate Newton’s conviction and release him from police custody immediately. Newton will appear in court with Vanessa Potkin, his Innocence Project attorney, at 9:30 a.m. Thursday in front of Judge John Byrne in Bronx Criminal Court (215 East 161st Street, Part A, Second Floor). The Innocence Project anticipates that Newton will be released at the conclusion of the hearing. Newton, Potkin and Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck will speak to reporters outside the courthouse following the hearing.
Newton’s exoneration comes 21 years after he was convicted for rape, robbery, and assault – and 12 years after his first motion for DNA testing was denied because the evidence in the case couldn’t be located by New York City Police Department officials. Late last year, after a formal request from the Bronx District Attorney’s Office, NYPD officials found the evidence in the NYPD’s Pearson Place Warehouse – in the exact bin where it was supposed to be, and where a Pearson Place official stated in writing he didn’t see it after earlier requests. Pearson Place Warehouse stores evidence for all crimes in the five boroughs of New York City.
“Al Newton has always maintained his innocence, and he lost any chance of parole three separate times because he wouldn’t admit to a crime he didn’t commit. We could have proven Al’s innocence nearly 12 years ago if the NYPD had adequate evidence preservation, storage and retrieval systems,” said Potkin. “The only logical conclusion for why this evidence wasn’t located sooner is that Pearson Place officials didn’t get up and look for it – they simply claimed they couldn’t find it.”
An Innocence Project review of cases it has closed (meaning cases that do not result in exonerations or continue in litigation) in the last 10 years shows that fully 50% of closed cases in New York City were closed because the NYPD said evidence was lost or destroyed at Pearson Place Warehouse. For the same time period nationwide, 32% of closed cases were the result of reportedly lost or destroyed evidence.
“Poor evidence preservation and storage is a national problem, but it’s particularly serious in New York City,” Scheck said. “This case reveals staggering and appalling problems in the NYPD’s handling of evidence from old cases. Al Newton’s exoneration calls into question all of the cases we’ve closed after being formally notified that evidence no longer exists.”
The Innocence Project said today that it will formally ask the NYPD to aggressively search for evidence in more than a dozen cases the Innocence Project closed in recent years, as well as six open cases where evidence has not yet been located, and to give a specific accounting of what went wrong in locating evidence in Newton’s case and what policies and procedures will be implemented to avoid future tragedies like this one.
“We recognize that this is not a simple problem, but enough is enough. How many other people are sitting in prison for years while evidence in their cases sits in the NYPD warehouse? We will be asking Commissioner Kelly to order a top-level search for evidence in about 20 cases total. As the Bronx District Attorney’s Office demonstrated in this case, if there’s a serious determination to find old evidence, it can be found – and justice demands it,” Scheck said.
Newton’s evidence would not have been located without Assistant District Attorney (and Chief of the Child Abuse/Sex Crimes Bureau) Elisa Koenderman in Bronx District Attorney Robert T. Johnson’s office personally asking officials at Pearson Place to look for evidence in the case. The Bronx District Attorney’s Office then consented to DNA testing on the evidence and joined the Innocence Project in the motion to vacate Newton’s conviction and release him. “ADA Koenderman treated this case as a top priority. If it weren’t for her unstinting efforts, beyond what one ordinarily expects from a prosecutor in her position, Al Newton would still be in prison,” Potkin said.
Newton will be joined Thursday by his family, who has fought to prove his innocence for the last two decades. Before his wrongful conviction, Newton worked at a bank and a telephone company in the World Trade Center.
His wrongful conviction stemmed from a June 1984 rape, when a woman was assaulted outside a convenience store at Third Avenue and 180th Street in the Bronx and taken to a nearby park and then an abandoned building, where she was raped. The perpetrator beat the victim and stabbed her in the eye in order to prevent her from identifying him later. The victim identified Newton in photos, a lineup and in court, though just before his trial she told prosecutors she wasn’t certain he was the perpetrator.
Including Newton, 181 people in 32 states – including 19 in New York – have been exonerated through DNA testing. The Innocence Project, affiliated with the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, has provided direct representation or consultation in most of them.