In July 1976, Freddie Peacock was arrested for raping a woman near her apartment building in Rochester, N.Y.
During the attack, the victim was knocked to the ground, hitting her head on the concrete. She didn't see her attacker before hitting her head. She was dragged to the side of a nearby house and raped. When the perpetrator fled, she went to her apartment building and asked the building superintendent to call the police.
Peacock, who was 27 at the time, lived in the same apartment building as the victim, and the victim identified him as the perpetrator. Peacock initially denied any involvement in the crime, but police claim he ultimately confessed.
Peacock told the detective handling the case that he had severe mental illness and had been hospitalized for it several times. In his alleged confession, Peacock could not tell officers where, when or how the victim was raped.
Nevertheless, he was tried, convicted and sentenced to up to 20 years in prison.
Three weeks ago, 33 years after his conviction, Peacock, who is now 60, was exonerated.
In 2002, Peacock contacted the Innocence Project, which is affiliated with the Cardozo School of Law. Researchers at the project determined through DNA testing of bodily fluids in underwear the victim wore that night that Peacock could not have been the attacker.
Peacock is the 250th person exonerated through DNA testing in the U.S.
According to the Innocence Project:
- The top three states for DNA exonerations are Texas with 40, Illinois with 29, and New York with 25.
- 76 percent of the wrongful convictions involved eyewitness misidentification;
- 50 percent involved improper forensic science;
- 27 percent relied on a false confession, admission or guilty plea.
- 70 percent of the 250 people exonerated are people of color (60 percent are black; nearly 9 percent are Latino; 29 percent are white).
"These DNA exonerations show us how the criminal justice system is flawed and how it can be fixed," said Peter Neufeld, co-director of the Innocence Project. "DNA exonerations have helped transform the criminal justice system, leading to reforms in virtually every state, but there is still a great deal of work to do to make our system of justice more fair, accurate and reliable."
In the last several years, state and federal policy makers have begun using the lessons of DNA exonerations to prevent wrongful convictions.
- Several dozen states and cities have reformed how lineups and other eyewitness identification procedures are conducted to reduce the possibility of errors. Legislation is pending in nine states plus Washington, D.C., to improve eyewitness procedures.
- Improper forensic science, which includes everything from forensic disciplines that lack a scientific basis to outright misconduct, was the focus of an unprecedented National Academy of Sciences report in 2009 that called on Congress to create the federal capacity to stimulate scientific research and set national standards.
- More than 500 jurisdictions now record interrogations, which can help prevent false confessions or admissions. Seventeen states and Washington, D.C., mandate the recording of at least some interrogations, and legislation to require or improve such recording is pending in 13 states.
Since his release from prison, Peacock has relied on the support of his family and church community in the Rochester area. He continues treatment for mental illness.
"I never gave up hope that this day would come," he said on Feb. 4. "When the truth is all you have, you learn to hang onto it. I am grateful to my family and everyone who has supported me over the years. I am looking forward to moving on with my life, now that my name is finally cleared."