On March 20, 1991, an 18-year-old white woman was abducted at knifepoint shortly after midnight while waiting for a bus in Roxbury, Massachusetts.
Her assailant forced her into a wooded area nearby and raped her. Before leaving, the man told her to come to a skating rink the next day with $100.
The victim, a resident of Dorchester, Massachusetts, told police her attacker was a clean-shaven young black man about 5 feet, 10 inches tall and weighing about 200 pounds. She said he wore his hair in a high Afro with a short fade on the sides and letters shaved into the back of his scalp.
That night, police staked out the rink and spotted 23-year-old Anthony Powell. Even though Powell had a moustache and a full head of hair, they included him in a photo line-up. When the victim selected Powell, he was arrested and charged with the rape.
At trial, the victim identified him as her assailant. Further, the victim was allowed to testify without objection that the jacket Anthony was wearing when he was arrested smelled like the rapist's jacket because it smelled of urine even though the jacket did not resemble the jacket worn by the rapist.
On September 14, 1992, Powell was convicted by a jury. Although DNA technology was available, no such evidence was presented at Powell’s trial because the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court did not permit DNA evidence in state courts until 1994. By that time, Powell's family had chosen to hire an appellate lawyer instead of seeking DNA testing. They could not afford both.
He was sentenced to 12 to 20 years in prison.
In 2002, a petition for DNA testing was granted and eliminated Powell. However, the victim said she had sex with her boyfriend not long before the attack and that Powell may not have ejaculated. More DNA tests on the boyfriend eliminated him as well.
On March 8, 2004, the conviction was vacated, the charges were dismissed and Powell was released.
In 1995, as the statute of limitations approached for two other unsolved rapes in Suffolk County, prosecutors obtained indictments using only the name “John Doe.”
After Powell was released, the DNA profile from the March 20, 1991 crime was entered into the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) and it matched the DNA profile of Jerry Dixon, of Dorchester.
Dixon’s DNA was in the databank because he was convicted in 2007 of several motor vehicle offenses and was imprisoned for nine months. Before his release, he was required to submit a DNA sample because of an unrelated armed robbery offense dating back to 1991.
Dixon’s DNA also matched the profiles in the two “John Doe” indictments—both for rapes that occurred soon after the attack for which Powell was wrongly convicted. One rape occurred April 24, 1991 in Roxbury and Dixon was arrested, but when the victim declined to prosecute, the charges were dismissed. The second occurred on July 13, 1991 in Jamaica Plain.
On July 28, 2011, Dixon pleaded guilty to all three rapes and was sentenced to 30 years in prison.
Powell filed a federal civil rights lawsuit and in 2008, the city of Boston settled the case for $3.8 million.
– Maurice Possley
The National Registry of Exonerations is a project of the Newkirk Center for Science & Society at University of California Irvine, the University of Michigan Law School and Michigan State University College of Law. It was founded in 2012 in conjunction with the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law. The Registry provides detailed information about every known exoneration in the United States since 1989—cases in which a person was wrongly convicted of a crime and later cleared of all the charges based on new evidence of innocence.
We welcome new information from any source about exonerations already on our list and about cases not in the Registry that might be exonerations.