In February 1980, two masked men robbed a jewelry store at gunpoint in Providence, Rhode Island. The men attacked a postal worker and locked her in the back of her trunk. One of the men then posed as a postal worker, and after gaining access to the store, let his accomplice inside. The two robbed the store and left. An owner of the store saw the face of one of the robbers when he fumbled with his mask. An informant told police that Paul Courteau was the man who entered the store first. The postal worker was unable to identify him, but the store owner who had glimpsed his face identified him in a photo lineup, in person, and again at trial. Courteau was convicted of armed robbery by a jury in March 1981, and sentenced to 15 years inprison. He was released in 1994 after completing his sentence.
A year later, police suspected him of involvement in another armed robbery and a murder. In the course of preparing for trial on the new charges, prosecutors looked at his old conviction and realized that a mob figure who had recently entered witness protection had confessed to the 1980 robbery. The mob figure had looked very similar to Courteau at the time of the robbery. After the mob figure testified that he, not Courteau, had committed the robbery, the Rhode Island Superior Court granted Courteau’s motion to vacate his conviction in April 1999.
- Stephanie Denzel