City Police Department Gets Innocence Project Grant
The New York City Police Department, the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner and the Innocence Project have been awarded a National Institute of Justice grant to catalogue evidence to improve access for those seeking to prove their innocence through DNA testing. The $1.25 million in grant funds, will be distributed over two years.
“Advances in the science of DNA help in the identification and prosecution of dangerous criminals, as well as to provide a way to assure that innocent individuals are eliminated as suspects or exonerated if wrongly convicted. Through this grant, the NYPD is proud to join the Innocence Project in its noble work to restore actually innocent persons to society,” Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly said, adding, “I also want to commend Chief of Detectives Phil Pulaski for his expertise and tenacity in spearheading the winning grant application.”
“We are grateful to the NYPD for their willingness to work together to develop a system for cataloguing decades of evidence so that the many people who have been trying to prove their innocence through DNA testing will finally have an opportunity to do so,” said Barry Scheck, Co-Director of the Innocence Project, which is affiliated with Cardozo School of Law.
Most of the funds will go to the NYPD, which will search through its massive evidence storage collection facility for sexual assault and homicide cases so that the evidence can be reclassified and assigned a bar code, making the evidence easily retrievable through its modernized evidence-tracking system.
The funds received by the Innocence Project will pay for a new staff member to expedite review of approximately 800 cases of people convicted in New York City who are seeking to prove their innocence though DNA testing. The Office of Chief Medical Examiner will receive funds to cover some of the costs of the DNA testing.
“Over the years it’s been very frustrating that evidence couldn’t be located for testing. With these new funds we are confident that some people will finally receive the justice they’ve been waiting for,” said Innocence Project Co- Director Peter Neufeld.
The inability to locate evidence has hampered the Innocence Project’s efforts to clear people convicted in New York City for years. Alan Newton, who was exonerated after serving 21 years for a rape and robbery he didn’t commit, had to wait 12 years before the evidence was finally found in his case. Scott Fappiano, who also served 21 years for a rape DNA proved he didn’t commit, had to endure two additional years in prison while law enforcement conducted an unsuccessful search for the evidence in his case. The evidence that cleared him was ultimately located in a private lab.
The two year period covered by the grant begins on October 1, 2012.
The funds are awarded through the National Institute of Justice’s Kirk Bloodsworth’s Postconviction DNA Testing Assistance Program, which was established in 2004 by the Justice for All Act. Bloodsworth was the first American who received the death penalty to be freed by DNA evidence.
The funds will be highly efficient because they will be utilizing infrastructure and expertise already in place. The cataloguing system for the evidence will utilize the NYPD’s recently modernized evidence tracking system, the new Innocence Project staff person will expedite innocence claims of people wrongly convicted in New York City, and the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner has agreed to donate all staff time for the DNA testing.