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Jury Awards Wrongfully Convicted Man $18.5 Million

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New York, NYA black man from the South Bronx, who spent 22 years in prison for a sexual assault he did not commit, has been awarded $18,592,000, after a jury in New York City found that critical criminal evidence was mishandled, thus violating his rights and leading to a wrongful rape conviction.

"He is satisfied a jury finally said, 'you were right.'
"Alan Newton is a very principled guy," says his attorney, John Schutty. He wanted two things from this lawsuit—to obtain a judgment in his favor from a jury of his peers and to make sure this doesn't happen to anyone else."

Alan Newton was freed from prison in 2006 after DNA analysis of sperm from a rape kit proved he could not be the perpetrator of a vicious sexual assault. But it took more than four years after his release to get a judgment against the City of New York for the sloppy handling of evidence, and it may take even longer to get the money awarded to the 49-year-old Newton.

"It was 26 years ago that he was arrested, and the City of New York is now going to file post-trial motions, which will delay an appeal," says his attorney John Schutty from his midtown New York office. "The City is constantly putting off giving him relief. "

From the very beginning, Newton insisted he was innocent. DNA evidence testing was not available when Newton was originally sent to prison, but by 1988, forensic evidence testing had advanced, and Newton believed it literally held the key to his freedom.

"The first couple of years he was hopeful," says Schutty. "He learned about DNA evidence and began requesting the rape kit."

"The city tested the rape kit in 1988 and found no semen in the rape kit," says Schutty, who first met Newton after he was released from prison. "There clearly was semen on microscope slides within the rape kit, but the technician inexplicably failed to see that semen, and that foreclosed Alan Newton from seeking further testing of the evidence for another six years!"

One of seven children raised in the projects in the South Bronx by a single mom, Newton testified he had actually thought about admitting guilt just so he could get paroled, says Schutty.

But he never did. "He had nothing else to do in prison except focus on getting that rape kit," says Schutty. "So he repeatedly made applications and filed freedom of information requests."

Newton was told it was lost, and then he was told it had probably been destroyed, but he kept going. "He was a machine!" says Schutty.

The suit originally included a claim against the lab tech who failed to find sperm within the rape kit (on swabs and microscope slides) in 1988, but the claim against her was dismissed before trial because the technician was declared to be immune from litigation. "If you could see the great color photos my expert was going to bring into court showing, in color, 500 to 1,000 sperm still on one of the microscope slides." says Schutty. "And yet the lab tech says she didn't see anything?"

To prove the case against the City of New York, Schutty had to show there was a widespread problem with the City's handling of post-conviction criminal evidence. "We brought in other criminal defendants who said their evidence has never been found—including two people convicted of sexual assaults who say that they're innocent, too!" says Schutty.

Newton is now working as a career counselor at the City University of New York (CUNY). He plans to enter law school in the fall of 2011. As for Schutty, he calls the Newton case "an incredible, life-changing experience."

"It is rare that an attorney has an opportunity to be so passionate about his work, and this case offered that opportunity from day one," says Schutty, a sole practitioner who turned away other work to ensure that he would be fully prepared for trial. "We deposed over 30 people and hired a slew of experts. At the end of the day, this was the most rewarding experience I have had as a lawyer."

John Schutty practices law in New York City. He has represented families of 9-11 victims, and has handled numerous product liability, premises liability and aviation cases of all sorts and varieties.

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