A New York man who spent 24 years behind bars for a crime he did not commit walked out of a Putnam County courtroom a free man on Feb. 27 after a jury returned a not guilty verdict after just a few hours of deliberation. The man’s fate was left in the hands of a jury because the Putnam County District Attorney’s Office insisted on a retrial when the man’s 1997 conviction was overturned.
The man was convicted of abducting, raping and murdering a 12-year-old girl in 1994. Police found no physical evidence linking the man to the crime at the scene, but they found a reluctant witness when a 17-year-old girl was arrested for drunk driving. After being questioned for more than three weeks, the girl told Putnam County Sheriff’s Department detectives that she had seen the man kill the missing girl. The man was sentenced to 25 years to life in 1997.
The most persuasive piece of evidence presented at the man’s trial was a confession that detectives obtained after seven hours of questioning. During the interrogation, detectives failed to tell the man that the Carmel Police Department had another suspect. That suspect later confessed to the crime. The polygraph operator present when the false confession was elicited had previously been admonished by a federal jury for falsifying evidence in another false imprisonment case.
Unnecessary house arrest
The behavior of the Putnam County District Attorney’s Office in this case is worrying. The man’s conviction was overturned, a motion to appeal the reversal was denied, the man’s alleged accomplice was acquitted for lack of evidence and another individual confessed to the crime. Despite all of this, prosecutors subjected the man to three years of house arrest by demanding a new trial.