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Louisiana Man Exonerated By DNA Evidence After Serving Nearly 38 Years

By Innocence Staff

Malcolm Alexander, center, with his son and grandson--also named Malcolm--on the day he was exonerated. January 30, 2018. Photo: Innocence Project.

Consider donating to help Mr. Alexander transition home after 40 years, here.

 

Ineffective trial lawyer and flawed eyewitness identification procedure destroyed lives of Malcolm Alexander and his family

After a reinvestigation by the Jefferson Parish District Attorney’s Office, today a district court judge dismissed the indictment and ordered the release of Malcolm Alexander who wrongly served nearly 38 years for a rape that DNA evidence proves he didn’t commit. He was arrested for the 1979 crime based on a deeply flawed, unreliable identification procedure. His paid lawyer – who was subsequently disbarred after complaints of neglect and abandonment were filed against him in connection with dozens of other cases —  failed in his most basic duties to present a defense. Alexander was released from the Jefferson Parish jail today.

Watch: Alexander reunited with his puppy Inn

“The stakes in this case couldn’t have been higher for Mr. Alexander who faced a mandatory sentence of life without parole, yet the attorney that he entrusted with his life did next to nothing to defend him,” said Vanessa Potkin, post-conviction litigation director at the Innocence Project, which is affiliated with Cardozo School of Law. “It is simply unconscionable.  Mr. Alexander was just 21 years old when he was convicted after a trial that began and ended all in the same day. We know there are many more innocent people in prison today because their lawyers did not provide effective representation, or did not have the resources to put on an adequate defense.  Without effective defense counsel, our system is nothing more than a conviction mill.”

Related: Donate to Malcolm’s Amazon wishlist 

Malcolm’s 9-month-old puppy, short for Innocent, was also released from Angola just a day after he was.

 

Alexander has always maintained his innocence of the November 8, 1979, rape of the owner of a new antique store on Whitney Avenue in Gretna, Louisiana.  The victim, who was white, was grabbed from behind in the empty store by a black man and taken to a small, dark, private bathroom in the back of the store where she was raped from behind with a gun to her head.

Malcolm Alexander his legal team including Innocence Project and Innocence Project New Orleans attorneys.

In February 1980, Alexander, who is black, had a consensual encounter with a white woman who asked him for money and then later accused him of sexual assault. This encounter, which was uncorroborated and later dropped by the police, prompted police to place Alexander’s photo in a photo array that was shown to the victim over four months after she was attacked at gunpoint by a complete stranger.  The assailant was behind the victim for the entirety of the crime, and her opportunity to view him was extremely limited.  According to police reports, the victim “tentatively” selected Alexander’s photo. 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. Yet, police conducted a physical line-up three days later that included Alexander. Alexander was the only person from the photo array who was shown again to the victim in the physical line-up. The lead detective on the case was not available to conduct the line-up, so another detective conducted the procedure.  According to the report of the lineup, the victim made a “possible” identification and the word “tentative” was written next to Alexander’s line-up number.  However, when the original detective returned later that day and took a statement from the victim, the victim’s confidence was recorded as 98 percent sure that Alexander was the assailant, and by the time she got to trial she testified that she had no doubt that he was the assailant. Blood type testing of the rape kit was available at the time that could have either supported the victim’s identification or proven that Alexander wasn’t the perpetrator but was never sought.

“The stakes in this case couldn’t have been higher for Mr. Alexander who faced a mandatory sentence of life without parole, yet the attorney that he entrusted with his life did next to nothing to defend him.” Vanessa Potkin

A review of the trial record reveals that Alexander’s attorney failed to make court appearances and to file important pleadings, including a motion challenging the identification. A review of the one-day trial transcript reveals that the attorney, who was subsequently disbarred, failed to make an opening statement, did not call any witnesses for the defense, failed to adequately cross-examine the state’s witnesses about the identification and presented a closing argument that was a mere four pages of the 87-page transcript.  Alexander received a life sentence for the guilty verdict.  Although the attorney promised to file an appeal of the verdict, he never filed it.

The Innocence Project first took up Alexander’s case in 1996 but quickly learned that the rape kit and a semen-stained towel had been destroyed only four years after his conviction.  Alexander never gave up and continued the fight to prove his innocence. In 2013, hair evidence recovered from the location where the rape took place was found at the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office Crime Lab.  The Innocence Project brought on Innocence Project New Orleans as local counsel, and the organizations sought DNA testing of the hair evidence. Three crime scene hairs had the same DNA profile that did not match to Alexander or the victim.

Based on this information and subsequent conversations with the victim, the Jefferson Parish District Attorney’s office moved with the Innocence Project to vacate Alexander’s conviction and dismiss the indictment in court today.

“We are grateful to Jefferson Parish District Attorney Paul Connick for working with the Innocence Project and for the cooperation of the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office in correcting this grave injustice,” said Barry Scheck, co-director of the Innocence Project.

Emily Maw, director of Innocence Project New Orleans, added, “In the nearly four decades since Mr. Alexander was wrongly convicted, we have learned how to greatly reduce the possibility of misidentification through improved eyewitness identification procedures, but Louisiana has yet to adopt these best practices. We hope Mr. Alexander’s case will inspire lawmakers to take up this issue as soon as it goes back in session in March.”

Alexander was awaited by his son and grandson (both named Malcolm) as well as his mother and sister.

 

11 Comments

  1. Vickie Fetterman

    To say I am thankful for all the Innocence Projects across the U. S. Is simply inadequate. One life at a time.Thank you.

  2. Herb Dyer

    Kudos & Congrats to Mr. Alexander! And the Innocence Project!

    This piece says that he is not angry at the way the state of Louisiana has treated him over the last damn near 40 years. That means, I guess, that he also “forgives” the state and the so-called “victim” who ID’ed him and put him in that awful place.

    My question is this: When will black people finally get mad at these people? And will we ever stop forgiving them for all of the dirt and damage that they have done and continue to do to us?

  3. Jeannette Battle

    I really need to get in touch with someone from the innocent project to discuss my sons case, he has been in Angola for 18 years, all the evidence was not prepared during trial, nor the main witness was not asking to come to court. My name is Jeannette Battle
    985-445-5880
    Slidell,La

  4. Melinda Anderson

    This is so beautiful…thank you Innocence Project. Now the so called legal staff who caused all of this grief and loss of freedom to this gentleman, they need to be dealt with..and Mr. Alexander needs to have his attorney fees FULLY refunded and this attorney needs to be disbarred!

  5. Whitney de Roux

    So sorry you had to go through this. Thank God for the ones who proved you were innocent and may you live the rest of your life as a happy man. Bless you.

  6. Anna Wood

    Dear Mr. Alexander, I am so very happy for you. I am sorry, and also very angry at the system that allows or encourages this in your case and so many others. You look like a truly great person, as well as Inn. The best revenge is happiness. Fulfill your potential now.. Bless you.

  7. Vanessa prentice

    What a total injustice, It breaks my heart what some people have to go through. Thank heavens for The Innocent Project, you all do an amazing job. Getting people the justice they deserve.

  8. PATRICIA STEPHENSON

    IM SO GLAD MR ALEXANDER IS FREE..THANK YOU FOR YOU HELP LOVE AND CONCERN FOR PPL INNOCENT PROJECT..IM SO HAPPY TO SEE MR ALEXANDER SPENDING HIS TIME BEING HAPPY IN THE PRESENT AND TRYING TO BE HAPPIER IN THE FUTURE THAN TRYING TO BE ANGRY AT THE PAST…I KNOW THE PAST WAS WRONG AND EVIL BUT WHY LET IT TAKE AWAY YOUR NEW FOUND HAPPINESS…PRIASE GOD PRAISE GOD

  9. Andrea Rappaport

    Justice at long last!
    Can someone tell me how to reach out or get a message to Mr Alexander? I am a jewelry maker (hobbyist) in San Francisco and I would love to send him some jewelry making supplies!

  10. Laurie Holloway

    Andrea, email the Innocence Project in New Orleans at [email protected] or call them at 504-943-1905.

    I hope you connect, because he deserves such a nice gesture.

  11. Rev. Dawn Cherri Snell

    My anger and my passion has been ignited since April of last year, when I was blessed to be in the presence of someone who was exonerated after being on Death Row in Alabama for 30 years for 2 robbery/murders he did not commit! His boss even testified that he was at work!!! Mr. Alexander, I thank Almighty God that He looked beyond everyone who put you there fir those years, faults and seen all of your needs! Once I get settle I will be donating to your freedom..you must tell your story!!!

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