After 21 Years in Prison, Four Free


Last week marked the fourth anniversary of Scott Fappiano’s exoneration in New York.  After spending more than 21 years in prison for a rape he didn’t commit, Fappiano was officially exonerated on October 6, 2006.

Fappiano was first tried for the crime in 1984, but the jury could not reach a verdict. 

The following year he was convicted of rape, sodomy, burglary, and sexual abuse and sentenced  to 20 – 50 years in prison.

On December 1, 1983 in Brooklyn, NY,  an armed male intruder woke a woman and her husband, a New York Police Department officer, in their home and instructed the woman to tie up her husband.  Once she had done so, he raped her vaginally, forced her to perform oral sex, and then smoked a cigarette and drank a beer. The victim was eventually able to escape the apartment and alert a neighbor, causing the perpetrator to flee the scene.

The victim described her attacker as a white male of Italian descent and selected Fappiano’s photograph out of a lineup at the police station.  Her husband, presented with a live line-up, picked out a police “filler,”  not Fappiano.

Eyewitness misidentification

is the leading cause in wrongful convictions nationwide, factoring into more than 75% of convictions later overturned through DNA testing.  In case after case, DNA evidence proves that eyewitness identification is often inaccurate.  In Fappiano’s case, 21 years would pass before he and the Innocence Project obtained access to the DNA tests that would prove what Fappiano  already knew – that he was innocent. 

After the Innocence Project accepted Fappiano’s case in 2003, it took two years to locate key evidence that could be tested. During the summer of 2006, the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner performed several rounds of testing and found that there was DNA from one female and one male in the sample. The female contributor was the victim. The male portion matched neither the victim’s husband nor Fappiano, proving his innocence. 

There is no law in New York State that requires the preservation of evidence, and without those vials of DNA, Fappiano might still be in jail for a crime he didn’t commit. 

After his official exoneration on October 6, 2006,

Scott Fappiano campaigned alongside fellow exonerees

in support of the creation of an innocence commission in New York.  In 2009, New York’s highest Judge, Court of Appeals Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman,

created the Justice Task Force

, a commission devoted to implementing and monitoring reforms in the court and justice systems.  New York is one of only nine states nationwide that has established a criminal justice reform commission.

Read more about these commissions, their goals and legislation


Other Exoneration Anniversaries this week:

Leonard Callace, New York (Served 5.5 years, Exonerated 10/5/92)

Brian Piszczeck, Ohio (Served 3 years, Exonerated 1994)

Douglas Echols, Georgia (Served 5 years, Exonerated 10/7/02)

Samuel Scott, Georgia (Served 15 years, Exonerated 10/7/02)

Kevin Byrd, Texas (Served 12 years, Exonerated 1997)

William Harris, West Virginia (Served 7 years, Exonerated 10/10/95)

Calvin Washington, Texas (Served 13 years, Exonerated 10/10/01)

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