Investigators will review hundreds of cases of people who say they are languishing in city jails, innocent.
The NYPD reported today that the Innocence Project, a non-profit that pursues exonerating wrongfully convicted people, received a $1.25 million National Institute of Justice grant to collect evidence for those seeking innocence.
The funds will pay the salary of a new Innocence Project staffer to review about 800 cases of New York City convicts, many who are waiting on reviews of their evidence – which can sometimes take years to find.
As part of the grant, NYPD officers will search through its evidence storage collection facility to find sexual assault and homicide cases, assigning each piece of evidence a bar code for easy tracking.
"Literally stuff was just being pushed further and further back and they just could not find it," Paul Cates at the Innocence Project told Metro. "It is definitely something that needs to happen."
Funds will also cover any DNA testing performed by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.
Commissioner Ray Kelly welcomed the grant, saying the Project does “noble work to restore actually innocent persons to society.”
Innocence Project co-director Peter Neufeld said evidence is often not easily retrievable -- leaving prisoners waiting years to find out their fate.
“Over the years, it’s been very frustrating that evidence couldn’t be located for testing,” Neufeld said. "We are confident that some people will finally receive the justice they’ve been waiting for."
One of those people was Scott Fappiano, who served 21 years for a Brooklyn rape that DNA ultimately proved he did not commit, according to the Innocence Project, including two additional years in prison while law enforcement officials looked for evidence.
In New York, 27 people have been exonerated through the Innocence Project.
A long wait for justice
Alan Newton was convicted for a rape and robbery in 1985. A 25-year-old had been grabbed, robbed and raped after leaving a Bronx convenience store around 4 a.m. the year before. The perpetrator cut her face with a razor, blinding her left eye so she could not see him.
Newton was exonerated after 21 years in jail, which included waiting 12 years before the evidence was found after an “exhaustive search,” according to the Project. In an interview for the Innocence Project, he recalled how investigators at first produced the victim's clothing, but not the rape kit.
“One of the things [the Innocence Project] explained to me was, the evidence couldn’t be find one, two three times, so it may not be found again, so you know, don’t get too optimistic because if it’s not found again, we have to shut the case," he recalled.
Now, he said, "I’m home now free after 22 years."