Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content

Layo Sinegal

Other Alaska Cases
https://www.law.umich.edu/special/exoneration/PublishingImages/Alaska_Seal.png
In the early morning hours of September 3, 1994, police were called to Eagles Roost park in Petersburg, Alaska, where a white woman, who was identified in court as J.F., told police that 37-year-old Layo Sinegal had forced her onto the ground and attempted to rape her.

Sinegal was a black seasonal worker from California who had come to Petersburg to work in a fish processing plant. That night was the day before all workers in the cannery were due to receive their season ending bonus and was a traditional night of celebration in Petersburg. Sinegal had gone out for a drink with JF and some co-workers earlier that evening.

Soon after police came upon JF, they found Sinegal in another area of the park with his belt buckle partly undone.

Sinegal was charged with first-degree attempted sexual assault. He went to trial in April 1995. JF testified that she had been drinking in Kito’s Kave bar and left to go to the park with Sinegal because he said there was a party there. She said she was drunk and could not remember everything that happened at the park. She told the jury there was no party and that when Sinegal said he wanted to have sex, she refused and he threatened to kill her if she did not take off her clothes.

JF testified that she recalled being on the ground and Sinegal choking her. She said she shouted for help and the next thing she remembered was being in an ambulance going to the hospital. She also testified that she refused any physical examination because she was “pretty positive” that she had not had sex with Sinegal.

Juan Hernandez testified that he was walking in the park when he heard a woman screaming for help. He said he saw a man holding his hand over a woman’s mouth and so he flagged down a car and asked the driver to call the police.

The driver of the car, Shawn Lee, testified that he got out of his car and walked toward the woman. He said he saw a man on top of JF holding his hand over her mouth. Both JF and the man had their pants down to their knees, Lee said. When Lee approached, the man got up. Lee testified that he helped the woman up and when the man put his hand into his pants as if to reach for a weapon, Lee punched him in the abdomen. The man walked away.

Police arrived soon after and after searching, found Sinegal in some bushes and arrested him. JF identified him as her attacker. Lee and Hernandez both identified Sinegal at the man they saw on top of JF.

A police officer testified that at the police station, Sinegal said he was not with JF, had not been on top of JF and denied that anyone had punched him in the abdomen. Sinegal, according to the officer, said he was in the park and heard her making sounds as if she were engaging in sex, not screaming. Sinegal said he didn’t see anyone else, but he believed someone else had to be there.

On April 14, 1995 on the basis of JF’s testimony. Sinegal was sentenced to seven years with two years suspended.

Sinegal’s post-conviction attorney discovered new evidence of his innocence that Sinegal’s trial attorney either had not: Sinegal’s belt was a one-prong style that could have come undone by itself.

In addition, the victim’s clothing—which Sinegal’s trial attorney had not examined—was clean, which contradicted her story of being forced onto the muddy ground. Moreover, the defense suggested that Hernandez and Lee were the real perpetrators.

On October 3,1997, a Superior Court judge overturned Sinegal’s conviction based on his trial attorney’s failure to conduct an adequate pre-trial investigation.

Sinegal was released that day pending the prosecution’s appeal. In October 1999, the Alaska Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court’s decision. The prosecution dismissed the charge in May 2000.

– Maurice Possley

Report an error or add more information about this case.

Posting Date:  Before June 2012
State:Alaska
County:Petersburg
Most Serious Crime:Sexual Assault
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:1994
Convicted:1995
Exonerated:2000
Sentence:5 years
Race:Black
Sex:Male
Age at the date of crime:37
Contributing Factors:Mistaken Witness ID, Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No