The only good thing that ever came from Anthony Capozzi’s wrongful conviction and imprisonment for rape was that Western New Yorkers were able to witness a demonstration of the twin virtues of devotion and grace under pressure. Capozzi’s parents, Mary and Albert Capozzi Sr., never lost faith in their son’s innocence while he was serving 22 years in prison.
Albert Capozzi died Monday at age 87 and, as New York continues to avoid taking responsibility for a criminal justice system that does too little to distinguish between the innocent and the guilty, the passing of this generous spirit should not go unnoticed. He and his family suffered a hell most of us cannot imagine as the unrecognized victims of the problem of wrongful conviction. Mary Capozzi died three years ago.
Through its refusal to act, Albany has been willing to turn its back on the direct victims of wrongful conviction. State officials will fork over some money to make up for the decades lost in prison, but they haven’t done anything to lessen the chances of future atrocities.
The state has also showed a criminal indifference to the future victims that wrongful conviction can produce. The man authorities should have arrested, Altemio Sanchez, continued to rape women while Capozzi deteriorated in prison, and then he began murdering his victims. Albany doesn’t worry about them too much, either.
These are the obvious victims, and plainly those with the most at stake. But the families of those who are wrongfully convicted bear a silent burden. Knowing their relative is innocent, they must nonetheless bear legal costs, travel costs to visit and the emotional burdens that go along with living in a community that believes your son is a criminal.
Perhaps those burdens don’t stack up against those of other victims of wrongful conviction, but the fact is that something can be done about all of it. There are common-sense reforms, backed by police and prosecutors, that would diminish the chances of convicting the wrong person.
Those reforms include better lineup procedures to prevent misidentification by witnesses and recorded interrogations to guard against the odd but real phenomenon of false confession.
Innocent suspects, under intolerable pressure and sometimes mentally ill, sometimes confess thinking they will then find relief from their interrogators. This sometimes happens when police inadvertently feed the suspect details of the crime that only the perpetrator would now. Recorded interrogations would provide a bulwark against that problem. Once police become accustomed to that procedure, they often come to appreciate it.
No system can fully protect against the problems of human nature, whether misidentification by witnesses or hasty decisions by police under pressure to get a criminal off the streets. But we can do better than we are now.
In his State of the State speech last month, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo proposed changes to address the problems of witness misidentification and false confession. He should press them.
And if lawmakers don’t care about the Anthony Capozzis of the state or the women who might be alive if Sanchez had been captured earlier, they might at least think of Albert and Mary Capozzi and the other families that suffer in this state because of wrongful conviction.