Sunday, January 04, 2009

Boston: Ex-soldier settles over wrongful conviction

A former paratrooper who spent 19 years behind bars for rapes he did not commit has reached a $160,000 settlement with the city of Lowell. The Lowell Sun reports that lawyers for Dennis Maher and for the city filed a joint motion in U.S. District Court in which Maher released all claims against the city in exchange for the settlement. The 47-year-old Maher had sued for $19 million, alleging Lowell and Ayer police of using improper identification techniques, failing to disclose evidence, failing to investigate and fabricating evidence. Police denied wrongdoing.

Maher was released in 2003 after being exonerated through DNA testing. Maher was a soldier based at Fort Devens when he was accused of raping two women on consecutive nights in 1983.

Original report here


Darkness fell for Dennis Maher 20 years ago, when he was arrested and charged with raping one Lowell woman, assaulting another, and raping a woman in Ayer. The crimes were brutal and terrifying. The woman in Ayer was staying alone at the Casa Manor Motel on Aug. 17, 1983, when a man entered her room and raped her at knifepoint.

The Lowell assaults occurred on consecutive nights. The first victim was a mail clerk at Wang Laboratories, who got off a city bus early in the evening of Nov. 16, 1983, and was heading home when a man pushed her into a yard. To subdue her during the rape, he punched her several times. The next night, a Lowell woman walking in the same area was attacked, but she managed to fight off her knife-wielding assailant.

The attacker wore a red-hooded sweatshirt - just what Maher happened to be wearing as he walked near the crime scene later on the night of the second assault. Investigators spotted the sweatshirt and detained him, the first turn of the legal vortex that would swallow him whole. He was charged in the Lowell attacks, then in the previously unsolved Ayer rape, and convicted at two jury trials in the spring of 1984.

``Do you care to say anything to the court?'' the judge at the Lowell trial had asked, a rote request that usually elicits no comment. Maher had other plans. ``I didn't do it,'' he told the judge poised to sentence him. ``If they call this justice,'' he continued, ``I think it's a crock....''

Maher began his life behind bars at the state prison in Walpole. In 1986 he was classified a serial rapist and transferred to the Massachusetts Treatment Center for sexual offenders in Bridgewater. Seven years later he saw lawyer Barry Scheck on TV talking about the nonprofit Innocence Project, which uses DNA to challenge wrongful convictions. ``I watched you on TV today, and it was like watching a video of my daydreams of finally being given a chance to clear my name,'' Maher wrote Scheck on May 11, 1993.

The project took up Maher's case, but nearly a decade passed before a law student found in a courthouse storage room what authorities had been saying for years they didn't have: evidence suitable for DNA testing.

In January 2001, test results showed the semen detected on the Lowell rape victim's underpants was not Maher's. Prosecutors then disclosed that a slide from the Ayer victim's rape kit had been located in the Ayer police station. Test results cleared Maher in that case, as well. Middlesex District Attorney Martha Coakley, reviewing the findings, called the convictions a ``miscarriage of justice'' and said that, while DNA testing didn't apply in the attempted rape, that charge would be dropped, too.

Original report here

(And don't forget your ration of Wicked Thoughts for today)

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