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DNA evidence proves Gretna man’s innocence

5th February 2018   ·   0 Comments

A Gretna man who has served almost four decades behind bars for a rape he says he didn’t commit has finally been exonerated by DNA evidence.

The Innocence Project recently issued a news release that said Malcolm 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.

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, according to the release.

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 more than four months after she was attacked at gunpoint by a complete stranger, according to the report.

The report goes on to say that 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.

A review of the trial by the Innocence Project revealed 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, according to the report.

The report said Alexander received a life sentence for the guilty verdict. Although the attorney promised to file an appeal of the verdict, he never did.

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.

In 2013, hair evidence recovered from the location where the rape took place was found at the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office Crime Lab. According to the report, three crime scene hairs had the same DNA profile that did not match to Alexander or the victim.

This new evidence led the Jefferson Parish District Attorney’s Office to vacate Alexander’s conviction and dismiss the indictment in court Tuesday.

“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.

Alexander, 58, sat quietly and smiled broadly as friends and relatives applauded and cried after state District Judge June Darensburg ordered his release. Roughly two hours later, he walked out of the Jefferson Parish jail in the New Orleans suburb of Gretna.

Alexander was reunited with his family in Gretna Tuesday afternoon.

“I thank y’all from the bottom of my heart,” Alexander’s sobbing mother, Maudra Alexander, 82 and in a wheelchair, told a group of Innocence Project lawyers and others as court recessed.

“I’ve been praying my whole life for this,” Alexander’s son, Malcolm Stewart, said. He and other members were separated from Alexander — still-shackled and clad in prison orange — by a courtroom railing but were able to talk to him, and gather information such as shoe and clothing sizes ahead of his release.

Jefferson Parish D.A. Paul Connick later released a statement saying he agreed that Alexander should be freed. “After an extensive investigation during the past two and a half years, I agreed with Mr. Alexander’s post-conviction attorneys that the defense attorney during the daylong trial 37 years ago provided ineffective representation in violation of his constitutional rights,” Connick said in a news release.

This article originally published in the February 5, 2018 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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