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Mark Prentice

Other New York Guilty Plea Cases
On August 30, 1988, 81-year-old Lawrence Meeker, Sr. was found beaten and robbed in his home in Enfield, New York.

Two days later, New York State Police arrested 27-year-old Mark Prentice, who lived nearby. Police said that two of Prentice’s friends, one of whom was the victim’s grandson, reported that on the night before the victim was attacked, they were drinking beer with Prentice in the victim’s shed, and that Prentice told them he planned to rob Meeker.

Trooper David Harding reported that he searched the shed and found an empty beer bottle.

Prentice denied any involvement in the crime. On September 10, 1988, Meeker, although still hospitalized, had recovered from a serious head wound sufficiently to be interviewed by police. He provided a description of his attacker that resembled Prentice. He subsequently identified Prentice in a photographic lineup.

Ten days later, Trooper Harding reported that he had found a fingerprint matching Prentice on the sink in Meeker’s kitchen. In addition, Harding said Prentice’s fingerprint was on the beer bottle found in Meeker’s shed.

Prentice went on trial in Tompkins County Supreme Court in February 1989. Meeker identified Prentice as his attacker. Harding testified that his fingerprint analysis placed Prentice in Meeker’s shed and home. After this testimony, Prentice decided to plead guilty to two counts each of first-degree assault, first-degree robbery and first-degree burglary. He was sentenced to 12½ to 25 years in prison.

In 1992, the U.S. Department of Justice began investigating claims that New York State Police troopers, including Harding, had falsified fingerprint evidence. In December 1992, Harding pled guilty to perjury and admitted planting evidence in Prentice’s and other cases. He was sentenced to 4 ½ years in prison.

Harding admitted that he retrieved a bag of empty beer bottles from Prentice’s garage during a search for items taken from Meeker’s home. Harding said he took photographs of fingerprints on those bottles. He said that he falsely claimed that one of the prints came from a beer bottle that he found in Meeker’s shed. Harding also admitted that he falsely claimed that another photograph of one of the prints was on the kitchen sink in Meeker’s home.

The bag of beer bottles—which had never been used during the prosecution of Prentice’s case—was discovered in an evidence vault. An FBI analysis of the photograph that Harding said he took of fingerprint found on the sink showed the partial image of a Labatt’s beer label—the brand of beer in the bag of bottles taken from Prentice’s garage.

Based on the disclosure, Prentice filed a motion to vacate his conviction. In February 1993, a judge granted the motion and dismissed the indictment, but allowed the prosecution to seek another indictment. In April 1993, a grand jury indicted Prentice on charges of burglary and assault—without the fingerprint evidence.

In July, 1993, Prentice went to trial a second time. At this trial, Prentice’s lawyer asked the judge to issue a subpoena for Harding to testify for the defense. Prentice’s lawyer said Harding would testify only if subpoenaed. In support of his motion, the lawyer submitted an affidavit from Harding in which he said that other members of the state police involved in the investigation of the assault and robbery of Meeker knew about the fabrication of the fingerprint evidence.

The affidavit said that Harding would testify that his supervisor knew of the fingerprint fraud. Prentice’s lawyer submitted an affidavit of the prosecutor who prosecuted Harding’s case confirming that Harding had accused his supervisor of complicity in the fingerprint fraud. Also, Prentice’s lawyer presented an affidavit from one of Prentice’s friends who claimed that Harding had coerced him to implicate Prentice in the crime.

The trial judge declined to issue the subpoena, and Prentice was convicted of first-degree burglary and first-degree assault. He was again sentenced to 12½ years to 25 years in prison.

In October 1994, the Appellate Division of the New York Supreme Court reversed Prentice’s conviction and ordered a new trial. The appeals court held that Prentice had been denied his constitutional right to a defense—specifically, evidence that the State Police fabricated evidence and manipulated witnesses.

Prentice went to trial a third time in March 1995. Trooper Harding testified for the defense and detailed how Prentice was framed. On March 31, 1995, Prentice was acquitted and released from prison.

Prentice later sought compensation from the New York Court of Claims, but his claim was denied.

Harding and four other State Police troopers were convicted of fabricating and planting evidence and all were sent to prison.

Nelson Roth, who was appointed special prosecutor to investigate the scandal, ultimately issued a report to Gov. George Pataki based on an examination of thousands of cases handled by Harding and the others. Evidence was tampered with in at least 30 cases, the report said.

Some of the defendants, after obtaining new trials, pled guilty and were released. Charges were dismissed for another defendant, Shirley Kinge, who had been wrongly convicted of helping her son to burn down a house to cover up her son’s murder of a man, his wife, and their two children. In that case, Harding admitted that he planted one of Shirley Kinge’s fingerprints on a gasoline can found at the scene of the fire.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 10/31/2014
State:New York
County:Tompkins
Most Serious Crime:Robbery
Additional Convictions:Assault, Burglary/Unlawful Entry
Reported Crime Date:1988
Convicted:1989
Exonerated:1995
Sentence:12.5 to 25 years
Race:Caucasian
Sex:Male
Age at the date of crime:27
Contributing Factors:Mistaken Witness ID, False or Misleading Forensic Evidence, Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No