A Guyanese man was yesterday freed from a US prison where he spent nearly 30 years for a crime he never committed and he now faces the legal challenge of fighting to remain in the United States where he had been since the age of five.
According to a report in the New York Daily News, Mark Denny, 47, had spent the past three decades behind bars for a brutal rape and robbery he didn’t commit.
It was reported that the Brooklyn District Attorney’s (DA) Office said that it had moved to vacate Denny’s conviction and dismiss the indictment after an investigation revealed faulty witness identification.
Denny later appeared before Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Matthew D’Emic, who made his exoneration official. The newspaper reported that after the decree, Denny smiled and waved to his family and friends who filled the court gallery.
“I’m overwhelmed thinking of what I’ll do next to get my life back on track,” he said after walking out of the courthouse an innocent man.
“I have no ill feelings towards the victim. Going to prison was a traumatic experience mentally. There’s a lot of people in my position. I appreciate everyone for all they have done for me.”
The Guyanese was the 24th person to have his conviction vacated by the DA’s Conviction Review Unit. Brooklyn DA, Eric Gonzalez said his review team examined evidence and interviewed witnesses as well as Denny’s co-defendants in the case.
Denny was exonerated with the help of the Innocence Project, which had been working on his case since 2009.
He was accused with three other defendants of a late-night gunpoint robbery and rape at a Burger King in Kensington on Dec. 20, 1987.
The four were accused of forcing their way into the restaurant after closing and holding two employees — an 18-year-old woman and a male — hostage. They ordered the two employees to undress, took US$3,000 from a safe and then raped and sodomized the woman in a back room.
The victim had a blindfold over her eyes during a portion of the attack and may have passed out.
Denny became a suspect in March 1988 after he was busted two months earlier for gun possession. He had been arrested in a car with the three other defendants, who were wanted for robbing a Manhattan Burger King.
The problems in identifying Denny began right away.
Detectives showed the victim of the rape a picture of Denny, but she did not identify him. Two days later, she was able to identify him in a lineup.
But during Denny’s trial, the victim was vague in her description of him and his actions.
Dr. Jennifer Dysart, a John Jay College psychology professor who the DA hired as a consultant to examine the case, said the victim’s witness reliability was likely affected by her limited opportunity to see her attackers, the existence of a gun, the extreme stress from the attack and the time lapse between the incident and the identification process.
“The combination (of) all these factors significantly decreased the likelihood that an accurate identification could have been made by the victim in this case,” Dysart said.
One defendant, Raphael James, was convicted by a jury and was sentenced to 16 to 48 years in prison. He was paroled in 2015. The other had his case dismissed during a second trial because the victim was emotionally unable to testify.
The third co-defendant, Eddie Veira, admitted his involvement and pleaded guilty.
Denny’s co-defendants all told the DA’s conviction review unit that Denny was not involved. The defendant whose case was dismissed even admitted his culpability to the Conviction Review Unit but maintained Denny wasn’t there, Gonzalez said.
Denny was convicted in 1989 and sentenced to 19 to 57 years in prison. He always maintained his innocence throughout — even through parole hearings.
But now Denny has new legal hurdles as the report revealed that he went to the US as a child from Guyana as a lawful permanent resident.
While in prison, he was ordered to be deported due to his conviction. Now the Cardozo Law School’s Immigration Justice Clinic is working to reopen his case and prevent his removal from the country.