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Gretna man exonerated after serving 38 years in prison for rape

A Gretna man who served almost 38 years in prison for rape has been exonerated.

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GRETNA, LA — A Gretna man who served almost 38 years in prison for rape has been exonerated.

Malcolm Alexander was released from prison Tuesday (Jan. 30). His first action: a nice, hot meal at Deanie's Seafood in Bucktown.

According to a news release from the Innocence Project New Orleans, DNA evidence proved that Alexander, who was arrested for the crime in 1979, did not commit the rape that landed him a life sentence.

His paid lawyer -- who was subsequently disbarred after complaints of neglect and abandonment were filed against him in connection with dozens of other cases -- failed in his most basic duties to present a defense, IPNO said.

"The stakes in this case couldn't have been higher for Mr. Alexander who faced a mandatory sentence of life without parole, yet the attorney that he entrusted with his life did next to nothing to defend him," said Vanessa Potkin, post-conviction litigation director at the Innocence Project, which is affiliated with Cardozo School of Law. "It is simply unconscionable. Mr. Alexander was just 21years old when he was convicted after a trial that began and ended all in the same day. We know there are many more innocent people in prison today because their lawyers did not provide effective representation, or did not have the resources to put on an adequate defense. Without effective defense counsel, our system is nothing more than a conviction mill."

Alexander has always maintained his innocence of the November 8, 1979, rape of the owner of a new antique store on Whitney Avenue in Gretna. The victim, who was white, was grabbed from behind in the empty store by a black man and taken to a small, dark, private bathroom in the back of the store where she was raped from behind with a gun to her head.

In February 1980, Alexander, who is black, had a consensual encounter with a white woman who asked him for money and then later accused him of sexual assault. This encounter, which was uncorroborated and later dropped by the police, prompted police to place Alexander's photo in a photo array that was shown to the victim over four months after she was attacked at gunpoint by a complete stranger.

The assailant was behind the victim for the entirety of the crime, and her opportunity to view him was extremely limited. According to police reports, the victim "tentatively" selected Alexander's photo.

A review of the trial record reveals that Alexander's attorney failed to make court appearances and to file important pleadings, including a motion challenging the identification.

A review of the one-day trial transcript reveals that the attorney, who was subsequently disbarred, failed to make an opening statement, did not call any witnesses for the defense, failed to adequately cross-examine the state's witnesses about the identification and presented a closing argument that was a mere four pages of the 87-page transcript.

Alexander received a life sentence for the guilty verdict. Although the attorney promised to file an appeal of the verdict, he never filed it.

The Innocence Project first took up Alexander's case in 1996 but quickly learned that the rape kit and a semen-stained towel had been destroyed only four years after his conviction. Alexander never gave up and continued the fight to prove his innocence. In 2013, hair evidence recovered from the location where the rape took place was found at the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office Crime Lab.

Based on this information and subsequent conversations with the victim, the Jefferson Parish District Attorney's office moved with the Innocence Project to vacate Alexander's conviction and dismiss the indictment in court.

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