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Anthony Chaparro

Other New Jersey Exonerations
Shortly before 10 a.m. on September 4, 2002, an 18-year-old woman was attacked and sexually assaulted as she walked to a bus station in Elizabeth, New Jersey on her way to Union County College. She told police the man forced her to engage in oral sex and then ejaculated on the arm of her sweater. He fled after taking her earrings, rings and necklaces.

The woman managed to escape and ran to a house under construction. A construction worker saw her attacker fleeing, though he could not see the man’s face.

The woman was taken to a hospital where the sweater was swabbed for semen. The woman’s mouth and face also were swabbed.

In several interviews with medical personnel and police officers, the woman described her attacker as a 25 to 30-year-old Hispanic male, approximately 5 feet 9 to 5 feet 10 inches tall, who was wearing gray khaki shorts, a dark blue baseball hat and a white t-shirt. She later said the attacker was 5 feet 7 to 5 feet 8 inches tall and weighed about 140 pounds.

The woman worked with a police sketch artist and created a composite sketch that was printed in a local newspaper. About three weeks later, a retired police officer in Perth Amboy, New Jersey, called Elizabeth police and said he believe the sketch resembled Anthony Chaparro, whom the officer had previously arrested for a sexual assault in Perth Amboy in 1985.

The woman was shown a photographic lineup that included a photograph of Chaparro and she identified him as her attacker, even though the 48-year-old Chaparro was nearly twice as old as person the victim described. In addition, Chaparro was 6 feet 1 inches tall and weighed 215 pounds—considerably taller and heavier than the description of the attacker.

On September 30, 2002, Chaparro was charged with first-degree aggravated sexual assault and second-degree robbery.

He went to trial in Union County Superior Court in August 2003. The victim testified to the assault and robbery and identified Chaparro as her attacker, despite the inconsistencies between her description of the man who assaulted her and Chaparro. A forensic examination of the evidence had failed to turn up any testable biological material, according to the crime laboratory.

Chaparro’s defense attorney presented testimony from a family member who said that Chaparro left for work in Pennsylvania at 6 a.m. on the day of the crime and returned in the afternoon. Chaparro’s employer testified that he picked up Chaparro at his home in Perth Amboy at 6 a.m. on the day of the crime and they worked together until 1 p.m. The employer said he gave Chaparro a check for $420 for his work.

However, that testimony was undercut when the prosecution pointed out that the check was endorsed by “Antonio Nieves,” not Anthony Chaparro.

On August 7, a jury convicted Chaparro of first-degree sexual assault and second-degree robbery. He was sentenced to life in prison with no eligibility for parole for 25 years.

In 2006, the convictions were upheld on appeal. In 2011, Chaparro filed a state post-conviction petition seeking a new trial. Chaparro claimed that his trial lawyer had provided an inadequate legal defense because he failed to call the construction worker who saw the attacker fleeing as a witness at trial. The worker had given a description of the man and his clothing that was consistent with the victim’s description, and considerably at odds with Chaparro’s actual appearance.

The motion also claimed that the lawyer had failed to establish that Chaparro’s legal name was in fact “Antonio Nieves,” the name that was signed on the back of the paycheck.

Further, the motion alleged that while Chaparro was in jail shortly after he was arrested, another man who was in the jail on sexual assault charges told him that he had committed another assault, but had not been charged for it. Only after Chaparro learned the details of the crime he was accused of did he realize the inmate was describing the crime Chaparro was charged with. Chaparro claimed he told his lawyer about the inmate’s statements and gave him the inmate’s name, but the lawyer said he would not investigate the statement because he had previously represented that inmate on an unrelated matter.

The motion was denied without a hearing, but in March 2013, the Appellate Division of the New Jersey Superior Court reversed that decision and ordered that a hearing be held.

In March 2014, following an evidentiary hearing, Chaparro’s motion for a new trial was granted. His convictions were vacated and in October 2014, Chaparro was released on bond.

In anticipation of the retrial, the prosecution requested that DNA tests be performed on the victim’s clothing and the swabs. The tests disclosed the DNA of an unidentified person and excluded Chaparro.

On November 17, 2014, a judge granted a joint motion to dismiss the charges presented by the Union County Prosecutor’s Office and Chaparro’s attorney, Joel Seltzer.

In 2015, Chaparro filed a malpractice lawsuit against the state's Office of the Public Defender and the public defender who represented him, but the case was dismissed in 2020. Separately, Chaparro received $608,333 from the state of New Jersey in compensation for his wrongful conviction.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 12/5/2014
Last Updated: 4/21/2020
State:New Jersey
Most Serious Crime:Sexual Assault
Additional Convictions:Robbery
Reported Crime Date:2002
Age at the date of reported crime:48
Contributing Factors:Mistaken Witness ID, Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:Yes