Another day, another wrongful conviction uncovered. This time it’s a downstate man who has spent 15 years in prison for a crime prosecutors now believe he did not commit. And still, New York dawdles at fixing a problem that is catastrophic to those caught in its snares, as well as their families.
If revelations of wrongful convictions are not exactly a daily event in New York, they are beginning to seem that way. The increasing sophistication of DNA testing makes it ever easier to verify claims of innocence, and the numbers confirmed are not merely shocking, but a terrible window on the past when innocent people had no scientific means of clearing themselves.
New York is not alone; this is a national problem. But New York combines one of the nation’s worst records of wrongful conviction with a seemingly willful determination to do nothing about it. Even Texas has taken steps to deal with its own terrible problem on wrongful convictions.
Western New Yorkers are intimately familiar with this problem, thanks to the wrongful convictions of Lynn DeJac Peters, accused of murdering her own daughter, and of Anthony Capozzi, accused of rapes in Delaware Park.
The newest case is of Eric Glisson, convicted with four other people of killing a cab driver in the Bronx. Glisson repeatedly claimed that he was innocent, and, eventually, sent a letter to federal prosecutors in Manahattan that named members of a violent drug gang as the possible true killers. It was a guess, but one that looks to have been on the mark.
Federal prosecutors investigated Glisson’s claims and have provided new information to the Bronx district attorney. A New York Times story said a federal investigator signed an affidavit saying he found “overwhelming” evidence that two convicted gang members, “acting alone, robbed and shot” the cabbie.
If the evidence is as overwhelming as the federal investigator claims, these men should be granted their freedom immediately.
Just as important, though, is for New York finally to take steps to reduce the likelihood of future wrongful convictions. The state can accomplish this by, among other strategies, changing lineup procedures to diminish the too-frequent instances of witness misidentification – that’s what happened to Capozzi – and by recording interrogations, to prevent the odd but nonetheless real phenomenon of the false confession, often by mentally ill suspects who are fed confidential details of the crime by their interrogators.
The state had the chance to do this earlier this year. The Assembly passed a bill, but the Senate balked. It is critical that Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo pay attention to this problem, because it is literally a matter of life and death.
Women in Erie County were murdered because the wrong man was convicted of the Delaware Park rapes. While Capozzi’s life was being stolen from him in prison, the actual rapist, Altemio Sanchez, was graduating from rape to murder, as the Bike Path Killer.
Lineup and interrogation reforms are crucial issues of criminal justice and crime prevention. They are not touchy-feely be-nice-to-criminals measures. New Yorkers need to know their criminal justice system is functioning in a way that, as much as possible, weeds out the innocent and punishes the guilty. As of today, they don’t know anything of the kind.