Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content

George Perrot

Other Exonerations where the Exoneree was 17 at the Time of the Crime
https://www.law.umich.edu/special/exoneration/PublishingImages/George_Perrot%20(1).jpg
On October 11, 2107, more than 30 years after 17-year-old George Perrot was sent to prison for life for the sexual assault of a 78-year-old woman in Springfield, Massachusetts, he was exonerated because the FBI hair analysis used to convict him was scientifically flawed.

Perrot's long legal battle ended when Hampden County prosecutors dismissed the charges against him. Perrot, who had been granted a new trial and released on bond in 2016 based on the flawed FBI hair testimony, was convicted initially in 1987 and again at a retrial in 1992, even though the victim insisted that her attacker was clean-shaven and Perrot had a mustache and beard.

Perrot became a suspect a week after the sexual assault occurred. On the night of December 6, 1985, after a night spent ingesting drugs and alcohol, he broke into the home of Joseph McNabb in Springfield.

When Perrot realized McNabb and his wife were home, he fled. He then stole a woman’s purse outside a Denny’s restaurant and went to the nearby home of his sister. Police, alerted by McNabb, found him there shortly thereafter and arrested him.

The police were already investigating Perrot as a suspect in several break-ins in the neighborhood—he had a juvenile record of arrests that included breaking into homes.

Beginning at about 4:30 a.m., detectives interrogated him over the course of the next 12 hours. Perrot was questioned specifically about two break-ins that occurred about an hour apart on November 30, 1985.

In the first incident, 68-year-old Emily Lichwala reported that she was awakened at 3 a.m. by the sound of someone trying to break into her kitchen through a locked door. She also heard glass shatter near a breezeway door. Lichwala ran outside but did not encounter the intruder. She later discovered her purse had been taken.

An hour later and not far away, 78-year-old Mary Prekop was awakened by her dog barking. She went to the kitchen and opened the door, but didn’t see or hear anything. She sat in her living room for a few minutes and then went back to bed, taking a stick with her for protection.

Not long after, she heard someone enter the house. She went to the kitchen where an intruder confronted her and pushed her back into her bedroom. She said he struck her, sexually assaulted her on the floor, and left with her purse. She said the attacker was clean-shaven, with dark wavy hair, and was wearing a blue jacket, dark pants, and white sneakers.

Perrot signed a statement admitting to the purse snatching and the McNabb break-in on December 6, but initially denied involvement in the Lichwala and Prekop attacks.

Later, at 3 p.m., Perrot signed a statement admitting to breaking into the Lichwala and Prekop homes, but denied sexually assaulting Prekop. Detectives said that while giving his statement, Perrot became emotional, wept, and asked for a gun to commit suicide. He was placed on suicide watch.

At 4:30 p.m., Lichwala, Prekop, McNabb, and another woman, Mae Marchand, whose home also was broken into, came to the police station and viewed a lineup that included Perrot and several police officers acting as fillers. Perrot’s hair was long and curly and he had a mustache and a goatee. Prekop, Lichwala, and Marchand were unable to identify Perrot. Only McNabb identified Perrot.

In December 1987, Perrot went to trial in Hampden County Superior Court. By that time, he had been convicted of the McNabb break-in and was sentenced to 10 to 12 years in prison.

Prosecutor Francis Bloom, in his opening statement, told the jury that FBI crime lab hair analyst Wayne Oakes would testify that a head hair found in Prekop’s bedroom was “absolutely” not Prekop’s and had 15 to 25 characteristics that were “identical to every characteristic of the head hair” from Perrot. Bloom also said that FBI crime lab analyst William Eubanks would testify that blood on a pair of gloves found in Prekop’s bedroom was consistent with Perrot’s blood, and that “every genetic marker” in blood on the bed sheet from Prekop’s bedroom was consistent with Perrot’s blood.

Prekop was the first witness. She testified that she was assaulted on the floor, not on the bed. She said the sheet had an old bloodstain from years earlier when an ill relative stayed in the bed. Prekop also testified that her attacker was clean-shaven.

Lichwala testified and said she never saw the person who broke into her home.

Springfield detective Thomas Jarvis testified that Perrot confessed to the break-ins at the Prekop and Lichwala residences. The detective said Perrot denied sexually assaulting Prekop. Jarvis also told the jury that when arrested, Perrot had a mustache and a beard.

Eubanks testified that he analyzed two bloodstains on the bed sheet. He said he was unable to determine a blood type, but that on the larger stain, he identified four genetic markers. Eubanks said that Perrot’s blood had all four genetic markers. He said that the blood did not come from Prekop and “could have come from Perrot.” Eubanks also said he found a bloodstain on the gloves that had a genetic marker that both Prekop and Perrot had.

Eubanks testified that two of the markers were present in 41 percent of the population who, like Perrot, was Caucasian. He said that the third marker was present in 48 percent of the Caucasian population, and the fourth was present in 99 percent of the Caucasian population.

Oakes testified that he had conducted a microscopic comparison of the two recovered head hairs and hair from Perrot. He said that he excluded Prekop as the source of the hair. He said there were “no significant differences in any of the microscopic characteristics” between the recovered hair and Perrot’s hair.

Oakes conceded on cross-examination that unlike fingerprint analysis, the hair comparison could not be the basis of a positive identification. Nevertheless, he said that he had “worked thousands of cases involving thousands of known hair standards, so when I do in fact associate a questioned hair with a known hair standard, in my opinion, it forms a basis of a strong association, because very rarely do I see known samples from two people that are so alike that I cannot tell them apart. So it is more than just I can’t exclude him. I feel reasonably strong about that association or I wouldn’t be testifying to it.”

The prosecution tried to introduce a statement made by Perrot about where he discarded Lichwala’s purse. The trial judge barred the statement, ruling that it was obtained by a police officer who visited Perrot in jail to collect hair and blood samples on December 10, 1985. By that time, Perrot was represented by a lawyer and so the officer’s questioning of him without permission was improper. The judge, however, allowed the prosecution to introduce the purse, which had been located after Perrot told them where to find it. The judge ruled that it would have been discovered eventually even if Perrot had not disclosed its location.

Perrot testified that he did not remember signing the statement admitting to the Prekop and Lichwala break-ins. He denied that he had admitted committing those crimes. He also testified that detectives beat him during his interrogation.

On December 14, 1987, the jury convicted Perrot of aggravated rape, burglary and assault in a dwelling, unarmed robbery, and indecent assault and battery. He was sentenced to life in prison.

On June 4, 1990, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court set aside the convictions and ordered a new trial. The court ruled that Lichwala’s purse should not have been allowed into evidence.

Prior to a retrial, a different prosecutor, Brett Vottero, was assigned to handle the case. At that time, he discovered a “confession” that purported to be signed by Perrot in which he implicated two of his friends in a break-in at the home of Mae Marchand. Prosecutor Francis Bloom had prepared the confession after Marchand had been unable to identify Perrot in the lineup in December 1987. Bloom had forged Perrot’s signature on the confession and then used it to try to bluff Perrot’s friends into confessing that they committed the Marchand break-in. The gambit failed—the friends were not charged—and the Massachusetts State Bar later reprimanded Bloom for the forgery.

The defense filed a motion to dismiss the charges based on prosecutorial misconduct. That motion was denied.

On January 9, 1992, Perrot was convicted again of the same charges. He was sentenced to life in prison.

The Appeals Court of Massachusetts upheld his conviction and sentence in 1995.

In 2001, Perrot filed a motion for a new trial claiming that Vottero, the prosecutor at his second trial, had made an improper closing argument. In September 2001, the motion was granted and Perrot’s convictions and sentence were vacated. The judge ruled that the prosecutor made improper comments about the presumption of innocence and also improperly vouched for the credibility of the FBI agents.

The prosecution appealed. In May 2003, the Appeals Court of Massachusetts reversed the lower court ruling, ruling that the comments had not caused a miscarriage of justice. The court reinstated Perrot’s convictions and life sentence.

Acting without a lawyer, Perrot filed additional motions for new trial in 2005 and 2006, but was unsuccessful.

In 2012, the FBI began an audit of the cases in which its hair microscopy examiners had testified. The FBI determined that some examiners had “exceeded the limits of science by overstating the conclusions that may appropriately be drawn from a positive association between evidentiary hair and a known hair sample.”

After reviewing Oakes’s testimony in Perrot’s 1992 trial, the FBI concluded that Oakes made erroneous statements.

By that time, the law firm of Ropes & Gray was reviewing Perrot’s case. The firm’s review of Perrot’s case stemmed from its involvement in the West Memphis Three case. After those three defendants were released in 2011, the firm began receiving letters from inmates across the country asking for help. One letter came from Sherrie Frisone, a legal researcher at the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism at Brandeis University, who had become familiar with Perrot’s case.

Prompted by the letter, the firm sought DNA testing in the case, but the evidence was too degraded to be tested. The lawyers then shifted their focus to the hair microscopy issue and enlisted the Innocence Project and the Massachusetts Committee for Public Services Counsel Innocence Program.

In 2014, the defense filed a motion for new trial contending that Oakes had given false and misleading hair analysis testimony. They filed a supplemental petition after receiving the laboratory notes from William Eubanks’s blood analysis. The notes showed that contrary to his trial testimony, Eubanks had performed a blood typing test on the bed sheet and that this test may have resulted in a weak blood Type A-antigen response. Because Perrot had blood type O, he could not be the source of blood with Type-A antigen. Moreover, the notes showed that Eubanks did not test against all known enzymes and blood markers in Perrot’s blood. The laboratory notes had never been disclosed to Perrot’s defense lawyers.

In January 2016, based on a two-day hearing involving seven witnesses and 46 exhibits, Superior Court Judge Robert Kane vacated Perrot’s convictions relating to the break-in and sexual assault of Prekop.

Kane said that the hair analysis evidence at the 1992 trial “in numerous and material respects exceeded the foundational science.” Kane ruled that on seven occasions, Oakes’s testimony overstated the science.

Kane left undisturbed Perrot’s conviction for the burglary of Lichwala’s home because there was no challenge to the evidence supporting that conviction and police said he admitted to breaking into that home.

On February 10, 2016, Perrot was released from prison pending a third trial. The prosecution appealed Judge Kane’s ruling. On October 11, 2017, while the appeal was still pending, the prosecution filed a motion to dismiss the charges, saying that “the interests and administration of justice are best served by the termination of prosecution of this matter.”

– Maurice Possley

Report an error or add more information about this case.

Posting Date: 11/3/2017
State:Massachusetts
County:Hampden
Most Serious Crime:Sexual Assault
Additional Convictions:Robbery, Assault, Burglary/Unlawful Entry
Reported Crime Date:1985
Convicted:1987
Exonerated:2017
Sentence:Life
Race:Caucasian
Sex:Male
Age at the date of crime:17
Contributing Factors:False Confession, False or Misleading Forensic Evidence, Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No