Three Years Later, a Somber Anniversary
Three years ago this week, post-conviction DNA testing proved Allen Coco innocent of the crimes for which he was serving a life sentence. By the time he was exonerated, Coco had spent more than 11 years in custody – nine of them behind bars – chiefly as a result of eyewitness misidentification. Sadly, Coco died a short time after his release.
One late-May morning in 1995, a Louisiana woman awoke in her home to a man standing over her bed. The man grabbed her, held a knife to her throat and sexually assaulted her. However, the victim struggled and eventually managed to get hold of the knife, stabbing her assailant in his buttocks. Attempting to run, the man jumped out the window and was caught in the mini-blinds, leaving significant biological evidence on the blinds and on the floor: his blood from the stab wound.
Police showed the victim a series of photographic lineups and in June– almost a month after the crime – she identified Allen Coco. There were a number of discrepancies between the victim’s description of her attacker and Coco’s actual appearance: Coco has large tattoos on both of his arms (including a 3½ inch tattoo of his own name) but the victim didn’t describe any tattoos, despite her telling police that the perpetrator wore shorts and a short-sleeved shirt. Coco also had no stab wounds.
Unfortunately, the rapist’s blood stains found on the mini-blinds and floor of the victim’s home matched Allen Coco’s blood type, which only 5.8% of African Americans have. No DNA testing was conducted. The forensic evidence, combined with the eyewitness testimony, led to Coco’s wrongful conviction in 1997, and he was sentenced to life in prison without probation or parole.
The Innocence Project of New Orleans took on Coco’s case and secured an order for DNA testing. The knife and swabs were submitted for testing and results in March 2006 proved that Coco could not have been the perpetrator of this crime. The state of Louisiana demanded re-testing at its own laboratory and confirmed the previous test. In July 2006, Coco’s conviction was vacated and he was granted a new trial; further tests were soon performed on his blood samples and the district attorney dropped the charges on October 12, 2006.
Eyewitness misidentifications contribute to over 75% of the wrongful convictions in the United States overturned by post-conviction DNA evidence and is the single greatest cause of wrongful convictions nationwide. What’s the law in your state?
Find out here
Other Exoneration Anniversaries this Week:
, Virginia (Served 7.5 years; Exonerated 10/16/96)
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