Exonerations Follow Collaborative Investigation with Innocence Project, Office of the Appellate Defender
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., together with the Innocence Project and the Office of the Appellate Defender (OAD), today moved to vacate the trial convictions of VanDyke Perry and Gregory Counts for an alleged 1991 rape, sodomy, and kidnapping. The motion follows a two-year, joint investigation conducted by the District Attorney’s Office’s Conviction Integrity Program and Sex Crimes Unit – in partnership with the Innocence Project and the OAD – which culminated in a recantation by the complainant in the case. Presiding Judge Mark Dwyer granted motions to vacate the convictions and dismiss the underlying indictment.
“It is every prosecutor’s nightmare to convict an innocent person,” said District Attorney Vance. “This case is a tragedy for all involved – two New Yorkers were wrongfully deprived of their liberty during the prime of their lives for a crime they did not commit. This time can never be returned to them, but with today’s exoneration, we hope we can begin the process of unburdening them and giving them a chance at a brighter, successful future.
“The success of this extensive, joint investigation undertaken by my Office’s Conviction Integrity Program alongside the Innocence Project and the Office of the Appellate Defender speaks to the value of collaboration in the field of conviction integrity. These attorneys gave us valuable insight and a new perspective on the evidence in this case, and I thank all involved for their public service.”
Barry Scheck, co-director of the Innocence Project, which is affiliated with Cardozo School of Law, said: “We are grateful to the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office for working collaboratively with us and moving quickly to restore justice to Mr. Counts and Mr. Perry. This case underscores why it’s critical that prosecutor conviction integrity units work collaboratively with defense attorneys, and we are hopeful that the Conviction Integrity Unit will make this level of collaboration a standard part of its process moving forward.”
On January 17, 1991, a complainant flagged down a police patrol car to report being raped and sodomized at knifepoint by three men in Central Park. According to the complainant’s account and later trial testimony, the alleged perpetrators included VanDyke Perry and Gregory Counts, both of whom were known to the complainant. The complainant alleged that the men sexually assaulted her while demanding the whereabouts of her boyfriend, who owed them money. On March 16, 1992, Perry and Counts were convicted by a jury of all of the charges in the indictment against them: Rape and Sodomy in the First Degree, Kidnapping in the Second Degree, and Criminal Possession of a Weapon in the Fourth Degree. Perry was sentenced to 7-to-14 years in state prison; Counts was sentenced to 8-to-24 years in state prison. Perry was released from prison on November 9, 2001; Counts was released on August 14, 2017.
In 2014, attorneys with the Innocence Project and the OAD filed a post-conviction motion seeking to use contemporary technology that had been unavailable in the 1990s to retest DNA evidence which had been part of the original investigation and trial. The District Attorney’s Office agreed, and testing identified a previously unknown male DNA profile as belonging to a man who died in 2011. After an interview with the complainant, during which the complainant denied knowing the man and said he did not attack her, the District Attorney’s Office’s Conviction Integrity Program began a collaborative re-investigation of the case with the Innocence Project and the OAD.
Last month, following additional interviews and further investigative steps, the complainant recanted the original testimony, and asserted that her boyfriend pressured the complainant into falsely accusing Perry and Counts.
The Manhattan DA’s Conviction Integrity Program
In 2010, District Attorney Vance created the Conviction Integrity Program – the first in the five boroughs – to review claims of actual innocence, and help ensure that the Office implements the best professional practices to avoid wrongful convictions from happening in the first place. Since its creation, the Program has:
- reviewed more than 200 claims from convicted defendants,
- completed 19 re-investigations or extensive reviews of cases, and
- vacated 9 convictions.