A Westchester man who was falsely jailed for raping a teenage girl nearly 50 years ago couldn’t help but hug the judge after she acquitted him of the charges in an emotional hearing. Leonard Mack’s incarceration is regarded as the longest wrongful conviction in U.S. history to be overturned by new DNA evidence.
He gained his freedom on his 72nd birthday after the Innocence Project presented new DNA evidence leading to the overturning of his conviction. Mack was accused of raping a teenage girl and attempting the same on another girl. But, after reviewing the fresh evidence before her, State Supreme Court judge Anne E. Minihan overturned the 1976 ruling on Mack’s case on Tuesday.
His legal team relied on evidence of advanced testing of DNA to secure his freedom. The Westchester District Attorney’s office said the fresh evidence suggested the crime was committed by a known sex offender, according to the New York Post.
Mack, a war veteran, was placed on the local authorities’ blacklist when two high school students were compelled to go into the woods in Greenburgh on May 22, 1975. The sex offender first tied the hands of his victims, blindfolded them, and stuffed their mouths before raping the first one. He again moved to take advantage of the second sexually but shied away. According to the prosecutor’s report, Mack was picked up after the act had been committed because they claimed he fit the suspect description of a black man with an earring and hat. In spite of his strong alibi, the jury found him guilty of first-degree rape and criminal possession of a weapon in the second degree.
Mack spent seven-and-a-half years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. He tirelessly challenged his conviction in the 1980s, despite opposition from the Westchester DA’s office and court rejections. In November 2022, the Innocence Project contacted the DA’s office, leading to his release.
He expressed delight, stating that this day had been a long time coming, and the injustice had hung over him for almost 50 years, affecting his life and relationships. He never lost hope in his innocence, and now, finally proven innocent, he can breathe freely and is truly free at last, he said.
Judge Minihan, in an emotional and heartfelt moment, expressed that it was the honor of her career to vacate Mack’s conviction. She acknowledged that he had waited far too long for this day and stressed the importance of getting justice right.
In a touching display of support, the judge even left her bench to give Mack a hug during the hearing, as captured in a photo by the Innocence Project. The courtroom was filled with emotion, with images showing Mack wiping away tears and raising his hand as he walked out of the government building, marking the end of a long and unjust ordeal.