Anthony Capozzi was wrongfully convicted of committing two sexual assaults in Buffalo, New York, in the mid-1980s. He spent over two decades in prison for these crimes before DNA testing proved his innocence and revealed the identity of the true perpetrator who had gone on to commit multiple rapes and murders while Capozzi was wrongfully imprisoned.
Between December 1983 and July 1984, several women were raped along the bike path in Delaware Park. Their attacker surprised each of them from behind, threatened them with a gun, raped them, and then told them to remain on the ground at the scene for another 10-20 minutes before fleeing.
The victims in three of the attacks told the police that their attacker weighed about 150-160 pounds. Capozzi, however, weighed about 220 pounds and had a prominent 3-inch scar above his left eye, which none of the victims mentioned in their descriptions.
Capozzi’s schizophrenia caused him to have “strange” behavioral patterns that a former police officer noticed at a coffee shop about a mile from Delaware Park. The officer pointed investigators towards Capozzi as a possible suspect; he was placed in a lineup, where the victims identified him as their rapist over a year after the actual attacks occurred. There was no physical evidence linking Capozzi to the rapes.
The Trial and Post-Conviction
In 1987, Capozzi was convicted of two of the three rapes and acquitted of the third. He was sentenced to 11-35 years in prison for two counts of first-degree rape, two counts of sodomy and two counts of sexual abuse. Although he was convicted as the “bike path rapist,” attacks continued in the area after Capozzi was incarcerated.
Starting in 1997, Capozzi appeared before a parole board every two years, but in order to be considered for release, he would have to admit guilt, show remorse and complete a mandatory sex offender program. Unwilling to confess to a crime he did not commit, Capozzi stood by his innocence and was denied parole five times.
In 2006, a woman was killed along a bike path in a Buffalo suburb under circumstances resembling a string of serial rapes and murders in the area over the previous 20 years that police believed had been committed by one individual. DNA tests on evidence from the crime scene led authorities to a suspect Altemio Sanchez, who would eventually plead guilty to the 2006 murder and two others. DNA evidence from at least eight crimes has been linked to Sanchez.
A detective who was reviewing case files noticed that one of the victims in the Capozzi convictions testified that she saw the man who raped her driving away from a local shopping area parking lot two days after she was attacked. She copied down his license plate information. When the police investigated and found the owner of that car, his alibi checked out and her claims were dismissed. It was not until almost 25 years later, in 2006, that he was tracked down by investigators and re-questioned. At that point he admitted that the car was not in his possession that day, but that he had lent it to his nephew, Altemio Sanchez.
Capozzi’s attorney, Thomas D'Agostino, renewed the search for DNA collected in the cases for which he had been convicted.
Authorities issued multiple subpoenas to the Erie County Medical Center, where the rape victims were initially treated, for the rape kits from Capozzi’s case. After being told repeatedly that the evidence had been damaged or destroyed, glass slides from the rape kits were finally located. The evidence that could exonerate Anthony Capozzi had been sitting in a drawer in the county hospital for over 20 years.
Results of the tests came back in April of 2007 that excluded Capozzi and implicated Sanchez. Within days, Capozzi’s conviction was vacated and all charges against him were dismissed. He had served almost 22 years in prison for crimes he did not commit.
After Capozzi’s exoneration, Assemblyman Sam Hoyt and State Senator Dale M. Volker passed new legislation called “Anthony’s Law” which gave priority to claims for wrongfully convicted individuals seeking compensation from the state.