A Louisiana man was released on Jan. 30 from Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola after serving 38 years for a rape he did not commit. After a re-investigation by the Jefferson Parish District Attorney’s office and a case taken on by the Innocence Project New Orleans (IPNO), Malcolm Alexander was freed by DNA evidence. Awaiting his release was his son, grandson, mother, sister and other family members.
Alexander was 21 years old when he was sent to prison and sentenced to life after a trial that lasted one day. Alexander was said to have raped the owner of a new antique store on Whitney Avenue located in Gretna, Louisiana in 1979. The owner was grabbed from behind and was taken to a private bathroom in the back of the store where a black man holding a gun to her head raped her from behind.
In February of 1980, Alexander had a consensual, sexual encounter with a white woman who accused him of sexual assault after asking for money. This incident prompted police to add Alexander’s photo to a line up shown to the store owner of the 1979 case as an attempt to find the man who raped her. The photo line up took place four months after the white woman was attacked. The woman uncertainly chose Alexander’s photo, according to police reports. Three days later, police allowed the woman a physical line-up including Alexander. Alexander was the only man from the former line up that appeared before the woman. After viewing the men, the victim made a “possible” identification and “tentative” was written next to Alexander’s photo, according to another police report. Blood type testing of the rape kit was available, but never used although it could have supported the victim’s identification or proven Alexander’s innocence.
According to a recent article by the Innocence Project staff, “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.”
Alexander was given a law student as his attorney who, according to trial records, failed to file pleadings, make court appearances, call witnesses for the defense, adequately cross-examine the state’s witnesses and make an opening statement. Due to an inexperienced attorney, Malcolm was sentenced to life in prison.
The Innocence Project first became involved in Alexander’s case in 1996 and quickly discovered that the rape kit and a semen-stained towel were destroyed four years after Alexander’s conviction. In 2013, the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office Crime Lab received hair evidence that was taken from the location of the 1979 rape Alexander was accused of. From there, the Innocence Project assigned the Innocence Project New Orleans who then sought DNA testing of the hair evidence. This evidence found no matches to Alexander.
Barry Scheck, co-director of the Innocence Project, said in a recent article, “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.”
On April 10, Alexander and his IPNO attorney, Emily Maw, visited the University of Louisiana at Lafayette to share his story and his experiences since being home. Maw provided information on the Innocence Project and how it felt to work on Alexander’s case.
“A case like Alexander’s is why we do what we do,” said Maw. “Moments like this make all of the hard work worth it.”
According to Maw, the Innocence Project represents “indigent, independent, life-sentenced prisoners” as well as attempt to make necessary changes to the current laws and policies. IPNO, a non-profit organization that is currently one of the biggest of its kind, is currently representing 14 prisoners that have similar stories to Alexander’s. Since 2001, IPNO has freed 31 men, 30 being young and black. Maw provided statistics that showed 2,187 exonerations in Louisiana since 1989 with 354 of those being exonerations from DNA evidence. According to Maw, perjury and false accusations are the leading causes of wrongful convictions.
Alexander said the hardest part of his situation was being separated from his family for no reason. His son is now 40 years old with a family of his own and Alexander said he is happy to have the opportunity now to get to know and love them.
“My chance at life was taken from me,” said Alexander. “I am old enough now to know how to make the most of what I have left. There’s no time to be pissed.”
Since being home, Alexander has gotten married to his son’s mother and plans to go into business for himself. Alexander and his wife never lost contact during his time away and made sure to allow their son the best opportunity to know his father as they could.
“When I told her to go off and live her life, it never separated our heart,” said Alexander. “She didn’t listen to me. She never left me and this proves that absence makes the heart grow fonder.”