Tuesday, April 20, 2010

True Perpetrator on Cooley Innocence Project Case Sentenced

This is Ken Wyniemko. He was exonerated by the Cooley Innocence Project (where I work) in 2003. This is the often forgotten problem with wrongful convictions. It allows the true criminal to be free and continue to commit crimes. Gonser was not sentenced for the rape that Ken served time for because the statute of limitations had run and he could no longer be charged. If the police and prosecutor had not fabricated evidence to frame Ken they may have kept looking for the true perpetrator and find Gonser years ago.

Man who was wrongly imprisoned faces real rape suspect

Every day of the nine-plus years Kenneth Wyniemko sat behind bars for a rape he didn’t commit, he imagined the real culprit running free — and laughing at him.

“You don’t seem to be laughing now,” said Wyniemko, his voice shaky, as he turned to address for the first time the man who DNA evidence now indicates committed the 1994 assault.

Today, that man — 42-year-old Craig Gonser— was sentenced to 10-25 years in prison for an unrelated sex crime. By the time DNA evidence linked him to the 1994 rape for which Wyniemko had been convicted, the statute of limitations had expired, making it impossible for Macomb County prosecutors to charge him.

But prosecutors described the case in their efforts to have Gonser locked up for longer for being a longtime sexual deviant.

Speaking to the court, Gonser maintained his innocence despite Michigan State Police putting the odds of the DNA match not being correct in the quadrillions to one. He, like Wyniemko, was wrongly convicted, he said.

“All who desire to live godly will suffer,” he said in a prepared statement directed to “fellow Christians worldwide” that acknowledged previous misdeeds but denied the 1994 rape, as well as his most recent indecent exposure convictions.

“I am wrongly accused and wrongfully convicted,” he said. “I ask and plead for leniency.”

Circuit Judge David Viviano gave him none, describing Gonser’s rap sheet of crimes as “bizarre and disgusting” as he sentenced Gonser to more than double the 51-month minimum he faced. The deviation was allowed, in part, because Gonser pleaded no contest to being a sexual deviant, which allows latitude for heftier sentences.

Macomb County Assistant Prosecutor Michael Servitto said Gonser had a history of sex-related convictions dating back to 1992 that included masturbating in parking lots in front of women, groping women’s butts and masturbating in front of his 20-month-old daughter.

The most serious incident was the 1994 assault of a 28-year-old Clinton Township woman, who was repeatedly assaulted at razor point by a stranger who broke into her home. Wyniemko, incorrectly identified by the traumatized victim, was convicted and sentenced to 40-60 years in prison.

The victim in the case was prepared to testify to bolster prosecutors’ sexual deviancy case, Viviano said. She did not attend today’s hearing. It’s the policy of the Free Press not to identify victims of sex assaults.

In 1994, she told police that the rapist wore a stocking over his head, so she had only seen the bottom half of his face. After prodding, she identified Wyniemko in a lineup.

“I can only imagine how awful it must be to be physically and sexually violated by another person,” said Viviano, adding that part of the reason he allowed Gonser’s no contest plea was to avoid “making her relive this terrible ordeal again.” She would have had to testify to buttress the sexual deviancy argument.

Wyniemko, 58, won a $3.7-million settlement from Clinton Township. He was released from prison in 2003 with the help of the Innocence Project at the Thomas M. Cooley Law School, which pushed for the DNA testing.

He said he waited 16 years to finally speak to the real culprit. His hands and voice quivering, he told Gonser that he believed the stress of his incarceration caused his father’s death while he was imprisoned.

“Each and every day that you’re in prison, I want you to think of my father,” he said.

Gonser’s lawyer, James Simasko, said the DNA evidence had been corrupted in its nine years in storage.

After Gonser was led away in shackles — headed to prison to wear the same uniform Wyniemko had donned for nearly a decade — Wyniemko said he felt “10 pounds lighter.”

“It’s been a long time coming,” he said. “I’ll sleep better tonight.”

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