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Six years ago, Albert Capozzi Sr. sat in his daughter’s Amherst hair salon and explained how he felt about his son Anthony’s being exonerated after two decades of wrongful imprisonment for rapes he did not commit.

“Have you ever felt pure joy in your heart?” Albert Capozzi asked. “I don’t know how to explain it. We haven’t had any joy for so many years. Now we’ve had the joy back for two days, and we’re so elated.

“I want to thank God,” he added. “I have to thank Him for keeping me alive long enough to see this.”

Albert Capozzi Sr., gracious patriarch of the Capozzi family who never flashed any bitterness over his son’s wrongful imprisonment, died Monday in Millard Fillmore Suburban Hospital, Amherst. He was 87.

Mr. Capozzi was rushed to the hospital after being stricken late Sunday afternoon and died the following morning, family members said.

He and his wife of 57 years, Mary, who died in October 2009, never lost faith in Anthony’s innocence. He was exonerated of the two rapes in 2007, when authorities proved they had been committed by Altemio C. Sanchez, of Cheektowaga, the Bike Path Rapist and Killer.

Family members issued a brief statement Tuesday about Mr. Capozzi:

“He was a wonderful man full of love, compassion and tremendous generosity. We are comforted knowing he’s in a better place with our beloved mother. We thank the caring people of Western New York who have shown our brother and family so much kindness over these last five years.”

Sharyn Miller, one of Mr. Capozzi’s five surviving children, was asked how her parents kept from being bitter or angry during their long ordeal.

“It was their faith that got them through this,” she replied. “My mom and dad always saw the good in people, never the bad.”

A native of Meadville, Pa., Mr. Capozzi graduated from Meadville High School and entered the Navy in April 1944, stationed on the aircraft carrier USS Randolph, which served in the Pacific Theater during the end of World War II. Specializing in fire control, he worked in the ship’s boiler room, surviving kamikaze attacks and room temperatures of 115 to 120 degrees. He later was awarded four naval decorations, including the Pacific Theater Ribbon with three campaign stars.

After the war, Mr. Capozzi worked on the railroad and in a family shoe store in Meadville before moving to Buffalo in 1962 with his wife and their four oldest children to pursue better job opportunities.

“He sacrificed his whole life for his family,” Miller said. “It was never about him.”

Following a short stint working in the flour mills on Ohio Street, Capozzi was employed as a millwright in the General Motors Tonawanda Foundry for 20 years before suffering a broken back in an industrial accident. Mr. Capozzi was active for years at Holy Angels Catholic Church.

The Capozzis lived in the same Jersey Street home on Buffalo’s West Side for almost 50 years, before Mr. Capozzi moved to Williamsville about two years ago to be closer to most of his children.

His son Anthony, diagnosed with schizophrenia, remains in a Buffalo group home.

Surviving, in addition to his daughter Sharyn and son Anthony, are two other daughters, Kathleen Jeras and Pamela Guenther, and another son, Albert Jr. A Mass of Christian Burial will be offered at 9:30 a.m. Thursday in Holy Angels Church, 348 Porter Ave.

Family members no doubt will share the story told by Guenther about visiting her father in the hospital emergency room late Sunday.

“I can’t believe this is happening to me,” Mr. Capozzi told his daughter. “I was always so strong.”

“He always was,” Guenther recalled Tuesday. “We always felt that Dad could do anything.”

email: gwarner@buffnews.com