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Anthony Powell

Other Massachusettes DNA Exonerations
On March 20, 1991, an 18-year-old Black 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 in Suffolk County Superior Court, the victim identified Powell as her assailant. Further, the victim was allowed to testify without objection that the jacket Powell 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. Powell was also linked to the crime by hair comparison, but the forensic analyst did not present comprehensive qualifying information about the limitations of hair microscopy.

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 the tests 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 were conducted and eliminated the boyfriend 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 unsolved 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 he had an unrelated armed robbery offense in 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. Dixon had been arrested in that case, 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 pleded 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. Powell also filed a lawsuit seeking compensation from the state of Massachusetts. The case was settled for $500,000.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date:  Before June 2012
Last Updated: 11/8/2019
Most Serious Crime:Sexual Assault
Additional Convictions:Kidnapping
Reported Crime Date:1991
Sentence:12 to 20 years
Age at the date of reported crime:23
Contributing Factors:Mistaken Witness ID, False or Misleading Forensic Evidence, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:Yes