[Our American mythology used to be that we always caught the guilty man (woman) and that only the guilty were punished.Â Now such occasional things as DNA evidence (not often available) or confessions of the real perp have made us aware that too many innocents are imprisoned (or even executed).Â Lawyers routinely recommend that innocent persons take a lesser plea to reduce their prison sentences.Â See Anthony Papas on this:
or contact the Innocence Project:Â http://www.innocenceproject.org/
which works to free as many innocents as possible.Â We now have too manyÂ proven incidents of punishment of the wrong one(s) not to pause and reconsider how we prosecute and punish those (possibly wrongly) accused of crimes.Â See the Death Penalty Information Center:
An horrendous picture in Langston Hughes' History of the NAACP shows a terrified young kid huddled an electric chair waiting to be fried well done.
The following is the tale of but one of the many who has lost the best years of his life through the mistakes of our criminal justice system.
DNA sets him free at last
Jailed 21 years after wrongful rape conviction
BY AUSTIN FENNER, NANCIE L. KATZ and PATRICE O’SHAUGHNESSY
DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITERS
A Brooklyn man imprisoned nearly half his life for raping a cop’s wife won his freedom yesterday, finally getting the DNA evidence to prove his long-asserted innocence.
Although Scott Fappiano, now 44, lost the best years of his life, he never lost his hope, his sense of humor or his mother’s support – and he displayed all three yesterday.
“I’m just happy it’s over,” said Fappiano, his smiling face covered with red lipstick kisses from the many relatives who hugged him after he emerged from a Brooklyn courtroom a free man, without the shackles he had worn on the way in.
“Scotty, we made it!” shouted Fappiano’s tiny, white-haired mother, Rose, when Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Priscilla Hall ordered his release with the Brooklyn district attorney’s consent.
Fappiano was convicted based on flawed witness identification, and his innocence had been almost impossible to prove because of lost evidence, said Innocence Project lawyer Nina Morrison.
But the Innocence Project located two vials of DNA material, including the rapist’s semen, that had been buried in a private lab’s storage facility. New DNA testing by the city medical examiner confirmed Thursday that Fappiano was not the rapist.
“A wealth of other evidence that could have been tested years earlier” was never located in the NYPD’s storage facility, the Innocence Project said.
The case dated to Dec. 1, 1983, when an intruder broke into the Brooklyn home of a cop as he and his wife were sleeping. The assailant bound the husband with a telephone cord and repeatedly raped the wife.
Fappiano was collared six days later. His first trial in 1984 ended in a hung jury, 11 to 1 for acquittal, because the husband could not identify Fappiano in a lineup the day of his arrest.
Blood-typing tests also had failed to link him with cigarettes and stained clothing at the crime scene, and the victim described her attacker as being 5 inches taller than Fappiano, who had prior arrests for rape but was never convicted.
But in a retrial a year later, he was convicted and sentenced to a term of 20 to 50 years. He went into prison a disco-haired, athletic, Kingsborough Community College student from Bensonhurst and spent 21 years in tough facilities, including Attica.
“Going to prison as a rapist wasn’t easy; going to prison for rape when there’s a police officer involved makes it even harder,” Fappiano said.
His 66-year-old mother said the wrongful conviction “took all his youth from him.”
“They came into my home and kidnapped my son; they put him away, tortured him,” she said.
The court proceeding that set Fappiano free lasted just a few minutes. It took four more hours of processing, during which his mom, brother and a dozen relatives waited. His cousin Barbara DeCicco held a shopping bag with homemade rice balls.
“Hallelujah!” yelled a family member when the powerfully built Fappiano, still sporting a thick mane of dark hair and clad in prison gray sweats, emerged.
“Where’s my clothes? I want a cigarette,” he said.
Asked if he was angry, he shot back with a grin, “I’m not angry at anybody right now . . . I’m in shock. . . . At one point I lost hope of being exonerated, but never lost hope that one day I would come home.”
Yet he didn’t want to be freed on a technicality.
“I wanted to come home because I didn’t do it,” he said. “I wanted to prove I didn’t do it.” Looking forward, he said he wanted to master cell phones and computers. “I’m not stupid; I’ll learn quick,” he added.
Later, he and about 25 loved ones went to Ponte Vecchio’s restaurant in Bay Ridge, where he celebrated with baked ziti and a bottle of Brunello wine.
The NYPD released a statement saying Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly already is overhauling the department’s evidence tracking system and “committed to taking whatever steps are necessary to find evidence in cases where the courts are considering claims of wrongful conviction.”
Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes, who was not in office at the time of Fappiano’s prosecution, said: “It’s a profound tragedy that the victims of this terrible crime have been forced to relive that horrible night 23 years ago. It is also a tragedy that Mr. Fappiano spent this time in prison.”
The Innocence Project has cleared 183 defendants nationwide. In New York City, it has six open cases and 17 closed cases where NYPD evidence cannot be found.
With Jego R. Armstrong
Originally published on October 7, 2006
“A war is just if there is no alternative, and the resort to arms is legitimate if they represent your last hope.” (Livy cited by Machiavelli)
Ed KentÂ 718-951-5324 (voice mail only) [blind copies]