Malcolm Alexander, who was just 21 years old when he was wrongfully convicted of aggravated rape and sentenced to life in Louisiana State Penitentiary (Angola), was released from prison Monday after Jefferson Parish Judge June Darensburg overturned his conviction.
Darensburg made her decision after a reinvestigation by the Jefferson Parish District Attorney’s Office determined that Alexander did not have competent and effective counsel during his trial, and that his conviction rested heavily on a flawed, unreliable identification procedure.
Her decision also rested on DNA evidence that was thought to be lost long ago.
On Nov. 8, 1979, a black man allegedly entered an antique store on Whitney Avenue in Gretna, La. He allegedly grabbed the owner, a 39-year-old white woman, from behind in the empty store and raped her twice at gunpoint.
The victim never clearly saw her attacker’s face.
In February 1980, Alexander had a consensual sexual encounter with a white woman who asked him for money and later accused him of sexual assault.
Even though the woman’s charges were unsubstantiated and no charges were ever filed against Alexander, authorities had his photo on file.
That’s all they needed.
Gretna police showed the antique-store owner Alexander’s picture, and she “tentatively” identified him as her assailant out of hundreds of photos shown to her. Three days later, police placed Alexander in a lineup, and by that time, the store owner was “sure” that he was the man who had attacked her.
This was four months after she was attacked in the dark, from behind, at gunpoint. Alexander was the only man in the lineup whose picture had also been in the photo array.
According to the Innocence Project:
Research has shown that multiple identification procedures can contaminate a witness’s memory, causing a witness to become confused about whether he or she recognizes the person from the event or the earlier procedure, while also making the witness more confident in his or her identification.
After a trial that lasted one day—during which Alexander’s attorney, Joseph Tosh, failed to make an opening statement or call any witnesses for the defense, and failed to adequately cross-examine the state’s witnesses about the identification—Alexander was sentenced to life in prison on Dec. 10, 1980.
Still, he never stopped insisting that he was innocent.
Read the rest of Alexander’s story here