Brooklyn Man Exonerated After Nearly Three Decades In Prison; Declared “Actually Innocent” by Brooklyn D.A. Conviction Review Unit

By Innocence Staff

Mark Denny exonerated on Dec. 20. Photo by Sameer Abdel-Khalek.

Innocence Project client Mark Denny was incarcerated since he was just 17 after being misidentified in 1987 rape-robbery

(New York – December 20, 2017) Today, Mark Denny, who was just 17 when he was arrested, walked out of a Brooklyn courtroom a free man at the age of 46, after serving nearly 30 years for a rape and robbery that prosecutors now agree he didn’t commit.

Donate: Give a Personal Gift to Mark Denny as He Starts His New Life

After unsuccessful attempts to locate evidence that could be submitted for DNA testing, the Innocence Project brought the case to the attention of the Kings County (Brooklyn) District Attorney’s Conviction Review Unit which thoroughly reinvestigated a 1987 Brooklyn robbery and rape in which four young men were charged with raping and robbing two store clerks at a Burger King after hours. After concluding that that the three other men charged were the sole perpetrators of the crime, but that Denny had no involvement, the Kings County District Attorney’s Office moved to vacate and dismiss Denny’s conviction and joined the Innocence Project in asking to have Denny freed from prison.

Denny’s release is the first exoneration by the Kings County District Attorney’s Conviction Review Unit since Eric Gonzalez – who became Acting District Attorney in 2016 after the death of Ken Thompson – was elected District Attorney in November.

“Mr. Denny has been waiting for this day for a very long time.” Nina Morrison

In addition to his Kings County rape-robbery case, Denny was also convicted of two other crimes in other New York counties – all of which have now been dismissed. Six days after his 1989 Brooklyn conviction, Denny reluctantly took a plea to a one-year sentence for possession of a weapon in Manhattan (New York County), after police found a gun in a car in which he was a passenger, despite maintaining his innocence. The following year, in Chemung County (Elmira), Denny was charged with unlawfully possessing a razor blade as a prison inmate, and he pled not guilty and went to trial. But after learning of the Brooklyn DA’s innocence findings, New York County District Attorney Cy Vance and Chemung County DA Weeden Wetmore agreed to dismiss those cases as well. Their actions mean that Denny leaves prison with no convictions on his record, as was the case when he was first wrongly arrested at age 17.

“Mr. Denny has been waiting for this day for a very long time,” said Nina Morrison, senior staff attorney for the Innocence Project, which is affiliated with Cardozo School of Law. “We owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to District Attorney Eric Gonzalez and members of his conviction review unit for recognizing Mr. Denny’s innocence and taking extraordinary steps to right the wrongs that kept Mr. Denny incarcerated for his entire adult life. Their work is a model for law enforcement around the nation, as more prosecutors’ offices are taking the initiative to identify and correct wrongful convictions.”

Mark Denny surrounded by his  family moments after his exoneration on Dec. 20. Photo by Sameer Abdel-Khalek.

“District Attorney Gonzalez has set the gold standard for reinvestigating past cases,” added Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck. “The conviction review unit has demonstrated an unprecedented willingness to look at flawed convictions, even where DNA evidence is unavailable. The unit understood the dangers of multiple identification procedures and, after obtaining the advice of an expert on memory and identification, recognized that the identification in this case was unreliable. We are grateful that they were persuaded that Mr. Denny is innocent and went above and beyond the call to correct the injustice.”

Denny became a suspect in the December 1987 burglary of a Burger King on Fort Hamilton Parkway and rape of an employee after being arrested in a car driven by his cousin Raphael James, who committed a series of burglaries of Burger Kings in the city with two friends of James’, Mark Smith and Eddie Viera. Smith and Viera eventually took plea deals to resolve the charges against them in both Brooklyn and Manhattan. Since his conviction, James, who was tried and convicted with Denny, has admitted that Denny had no involvement in the crimes. The Kings County Conviction Review Unit recently obtained statements from both Smith and Viera, who also confirmed that only three men committed these crimes, and that Denny was not involved or present.

The rape-robbery occurred at about 2:00 AM as the last two workers were closing up the restaurant. Two men wearing ski masks approached the employees as they were locking up and forced them to reopen the restaurant. Once inside the male employee was forced to stay in the stock room while the female employee was raped by the two men. At some point during the crime, the men were joined by at least one other male.

“District Attorney Gonzalez has set the gold standard for reinvestigating past cases.” Barry Scheck

Denny, who has always maintained his innocence of the crime, was tried with James. There was no physical evidence connecting Denny to the crime. The only admissible evidence against him was the identification by the female victim — one that the District Attorney’s Office has concluded was severely tainted by flawed police identification procedures. The Kings County District Attorney’s Office also found persuasive the fact that the victim consistently stated that only three men were involved until after Denny’s arrest, at which time she allowed for the possibility of a fourth perpetrator. The second store clerk/victim always maintained that there were only three perpetrators, and did not identify Denny.

In March 1988, detectives showed the female victim a photo array that included Denny’s photograph and she did not select his photograph. The next day, the detective placed Denny in a live lineup and he was selected by the female victim, but not the male victim. This case presents a textbook example of what is known as “commitment effect,” where a witness’s pure memory of the perpetrator’s identity is contaminated by prior exposure to the same suspect in a different identification procedure. Here, the female victim, who was previously exposed to Mr. Denny in a photo array, selected him in a subsequent identification procedure. Alternatively, the male victim, who was not previously exposed to Mr. Denny in a photo array, did not identify him.

Scientifically supported best practices reject the use of multiple identification procedures. Indeed, under a policy in New York State issued by the Department of Criminal Justice Services in June of this year, police are advised against the use of multiple identification procedures involving the same suspect.

Support: Mark Denny as he transition home after 30 years 

Contrary to decades of scientific research on memory and identification, at trial the victim maintained that her “memory became better” after the crime.

From the time of his arrest, Denny has consistently maintained his innocence. At trial, he presented the testimony of his grandmother, who testified that they were at Denny’s mother’s house in Queens the entire night. Despite this alibi, Denny was convicted and was sentenced to decades in prison, despite the fact that he had no prior convictions of any kind. Over the last decade, he was denied parole several times because he would not “admit” guilt to crimes he did not commit.

Six years after he was sentenced, James, who was also convicted, wrote to the court and to the district attorney’s office. In his letter, he acknowledged his participation in the crime and said that Denny was innocent. He said, “My conscience has been haunting me for years” because his own role in the offense had led to his young cousin’s wrongful conviction. Although the New York courts refused to reverse Denny’s conviction based on James’ admission, the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office, after a thorough review of the evidence —including admissions of guilt, which cleared Denny, from James and the other two perpetrators — now agrees that Denny was not involved in the crime.

Denny was released from a Brooklyn courtroom today, surrounded by many friends and family, including his mother, Elaine Denny, who still lives in Brooklyn and never lost faith that her son would one day be exonerated.

Denny has been represented since 2009 by the Innocence Project, which is affiliated with the Cardozo School of Law. Cardozo Law School’s Immigration Justice Clinic also represents Denny, who came to the United States from Guyana as a lawful permanent resident as a child. While in prison, Denny was ordered deported on the basis of one of the above convictions and, therefore, even though all of his convictions were vacated, faced immediate deportation upon his release from criminal custody. The Immigration Justice Clinic is working to reopen his removal proceedings and prevent his removal while his request to reopen his case is pending. Last week, Immigration and Customs Enforcement informed Denny’s lawyers that in light of the fact that all of his criminal convictions have been overturned, ICE will not oppose his request to reopen his removal proceedings so that he can seek full citizenship and remain in the United States with his family, and does not intend to detain or deport him while the federal government is considering his request to restore his status as a lawful permanent resident.

Mark Denny enjoys his first meal at Dallas BBQ with his legal team and family. Dec. 20. Photo by Sameer Abdel-Khalek.


  1. anthony pappas

    Justice delayed is justice denied. There is no way the 30 years can be restored. All the same, congratulations and blessings to everyone involved in this exoneration. Keep fighting for truth and justice to prevent the same injustice from happening to others.

  2. Maria Johnson

    Thank you for all the important work you all do!

  3. Patti Harada

    Please tell Mr. Denny how heartsick I am at the criminals in our justice system who did this to you! I will buy all your books and make sure others know about them. You have my love, my grief for you and your loved ones, and brutalized black citizens everywhere.

  4. Adam Voysey

    Congratulations, love, respect, admiration and awe – to you Mark, your family and friends and the entire Innocence Project team.

  5. Sarah Blakely

    Thank God for the innocent project and the DA that made a wrong right it takes people who believe in justice right justice. I know I been battling injustice for my son now almost 25 years.I am glad for Denny. You are right Justice delayed is justice denied.

  6. Joyce JOHNSON

    I am happy MR Denny is finally free. I pray he is compensated for all those lost years and can live his life to the fullest. Thank you for fighting for justice for innocent people. God Bless you all.

  7. Rosaiah Byrd

    So wonderful to know just how incredibly committed IPNY was in pursuing justice for Mr. Denny for over nine years! That kind of commitment to justice is very remarkable, Mr. Scheck!

  8. Bravewolf No last name

    Hello Mr Denny.
    I would like to wish you an your
    Family a very Merry Christmas an, a Blessed Happy New Year.
    I heard an read about your case
    I’m sorry to hear an very Sad about what happened to you.
    But I’m glad that your finally free. I’m also very interested in the Wrongful Convictions that happen to totally innocent people. I think the state that
    Arrested you owe you $one million dollars for every day
    That you were wrongly imprisoned they should have to pay you. I’m majoring in
    Criminal Justice for my Associates degree I live in
    Los Angeles, California I try to
    Stay updated on things like
    The Innocence project an the
    Wrongful Convicted program
    An most of the reform of
    Criminal Justice in the U.S.

  9. Kathleen Lisle

    How many others are in jails for crimes they did NOT commit? I find this so disturbing. So many lives are being wasted. How were they able to declare Denny guilty beyond any doubt when he was actually innocent? I am so glad that the Innocence Project is pushing for justice. It’s a big job with so many innocent people behind bars. I wish Denny all the best for his future.

  10. Matty Black

    Congratulations even though this should have never happened to you. NEVER. But it did and I am so sure even around all the negativity in prison, just having the awareness you are not the man who was put there, and probably had to do somethings to survive. Please never judge yourself for what you did to stay alive. I have a feeling, with that said, you will be a fine, upstanding citizen here in the U.S. where you belong. I follow the Innocence project, and I get to feel alll the joy, sorrow, and delayed justice Barry Scheck and his organizstion have given wrongfully convicted men and women like yourself.

  11. Doug Piotter

    Bless your heart Mark Denny, may you live long and well. I’m very sad about what happened to you and hope you get everything you need to adjust. Sincerely, Doug Piotter

  12. Chris Nitzsche

    My heart aches for the years you and your loved ones have lost due to the egregious miscarriage of justice. I hope you find joy in your life, love and hope for you certainly deserve it. You, my dear man, should be paid reparations. I am sorry for the unimaginable pain you have suffered.

  13. Kathy Smith

    What wonderful news. I hope you have an amazing Christmas celebration with your family, and that 2018 brings you joy and peace.
    Sending this message from Melbourne, Australia.

  14. jeff lucas

    its good to know that there are people out there who do believe in finding out the truth and setting men free who are wrongfully convicted! good job folks! The reason im sending this message is, a very good friend of mine is in a correctional facility in pennsylvania, he has been in there for 8 years, I strongly believe he has been wrongfully convicted, he has been denied appeals, i just found out about services to help the wrongfully convicted, is there anyway possible you can help me and my friend out and put me in contact with someone who can help him become a free man again? thank you for your time and have a merry christmas and god bless! jeff!

  15. Elizabeth Block

    There’s a fascinating book called “Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me)”, about cognitive dissonance. There are a couple of chapters about miscarriages of justice, how they happen and how, occasionally, they are corrected. They are almost NEVER corrected by the same person – cop, prosecutor, judge – who did them in the first place. Good thing Brooklyn has a NEW district attorney.


    I tried getting my son an attorney after I sold my home, but the attorneys took my money along with other people and didn’t show up for court dates.
    I had proof to show my son had two jobs and we’re not hanging on the corner where the people lied and said he was, because he barely had time to do anything. Then three of the boys threaten my son by gunpoint when he wanted to get out of the van. The girl that was with them lied, because she was the driver. My daughter was threaten that night and my youngest son was there and my nephew, a co-worker of mines. People from a church was there for days were there at my house said they would talk to James lawyer. Some men at the park could verify that my son couldn’t be in our neighborhood at the same time he would be at a Southside park or working.

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