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George Perrot

Other Exonerations where the Exoneree was 17 at the Time of the Crime
On October 11, 2017, 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.

In the fall of 1985, police in Springfield, Massachusetts were investigating a series of house burglaries in the Malibu Drive neighborhood. Several of the break-ins involved sexual attacks on elderly women. Two of the break-ins occurred about an hour apart on November 30, 1985.

In the first incident, 68-year-old Emily Lichwala, who lived at 33 Covel Street 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 went outside but did not encounter anyone. She later discovered her purse had been taken.

An hour later and not far away, a 78-year-old woman, M.P., was awakened in her home at 27 Malibu Drive by her dog barking. She went to the kitchen and opened the door, but didn’t see or hear anything. She went into her living room and sat there listening. After a few minutes, hearing nothing further, she went back to bed, taking a stick with her for protection.

Not long after, she heard someone enter the house. She went back 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.

Seventeen-year-old George Perrot became a suspect a week later. On the night of December 6, 1985, after a night spent ingesting drugs and alcohol, he broke into the home of Joseph McNabb on Allendale Circle in Springfield. When Perrot realized McNabb and his wife were home, he fled.

At about 2:15 A.M. on December 7, 1985, Officer James Murphy received a radio message investigate the McNabb burglary. Murphy responded and obtained a description of the burglar. Murphy then proceeded to the area of Malibu Drive where two women reported that a man had snatched the purse of one of them at a Denny’s restaurant. They gave a description similar to the one given of the burglar, and told Murphy that they had chased the purse snatcher through the snow to Malibu Drive. Murphy concluded that the footprints in the snow were similar to a footprint seen at Allendale Circle. He followed the footprints to the home where Perrot lived. Murphy already knew Perrot, who had been arrested numerous times in the past.

Murphy called for assistance, and he and other officers were admitted to 87 Malibu Drive where Perrot lived with his sister and her husband. Perrot was found in his bedroom and placed under arrest. As Murphy led Perrot out of the house to the police car, Perrot broke free and fled. He was arrested a short time later, hiding in a backyard.

The police had already been investigating Perrot as a suspect in several other break-ins in the neighborhood. His juvenile record included breaking into homes.

Beginning at about 4:30 a.m. on December 7, detectives interrogated him over the course of the next 12 hours. Perrot was questioned specifically about the break-in of Lichwala’s home and the break-in and sexual assault of M.P. on November 30.

Initially, Perrot signed a statement admitting to the purse snatching and the McNabb break-in, but he denied involvement in the Lichwala and M.P incidents on November 30.

Later, at 3 p.m., Perrot signed a statement admitting to breaking into the Lichwala and M.P. homes, but denied sexually assaulting M.P. 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 in the lockup.

At 4:30 p.m., Lichwala, M.P., McNabb, and another woman, Mae Marchand, whose home also had been 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. McNabb identified Perrot. M.P., Lichwala, and Marchand did not identify him.

In December 1987, Perrot went to trial In Hampden County Superior Court for the break-in and sexual assault of M.N. and the break-in at Lichwala’s home. By that time, he had been convicted of the McNabb break-in and had been 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 M.P’s bedroom was “absolutely” not M.P.’s . Blook said Oakes would testify that the hair 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 M.P.’s bedroom was consistent with Perrot’s blood, and that “every genetic marker” in blood on the bed sheet from M.P.’s bedroom was consistent with Perrot’s blood.

M.N. 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 a relative who was ill had stayed in the bed. M.P. 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 M.P. and Lichwala residences. The detective said Perrot denied sexually assaulting M.P. Jarvis also told the jury that when arrested, Perrot had a mustache and a beard.

Agent Eubanks testified that he analyzed two bloodstains on the bed sheet from M.P.’s home. 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 M.P. and “could have come from Perrot.” Eubanks also said he found a bloodstain on the gloves that had a genetic marker that both M.P. and Perrot had.

Eubanks testified that two of the markers were present in 41 percent of the population which, 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.

Agent Oakes testified that he had microscopically compared the two recovered head hairs with hair from Perrot. He said that he excluded M.P. 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, 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. 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 M.P. and Lichwala break-ins. He said that on the date of the crimes which were the subject of the trial, he had been drinking beer and had taken two "purple" Mescaline pills. 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. The court held that the improper admission could have swayed the jury to convict on all of the charges.

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 had failed, and the friends were not charged. 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.

At the retrial, the defense again focused on M.N.’s inability to identify Perrot as her attacker. M.N. insisted her attacker was clean-shaven. “The man who assaulted me didn’t have a mustache or a beard,” she testified. The prosecution presented the same evidence relating to the hair microscopy and blood analysis.

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 2013, the FBI, the U.S. Department of Justice, the Innocence Project, and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers began a review of FBI analysts’ testimony and reports on hair comparisons. Ultimately, the review found that analysts had provided erroneous testimony or reports in more than 90 percent of cases studied. In 2016, then-FBI Director James Comey would write, “Hair is not like fingerprints, because there aren’t studies that show how many people have identical-looking hair fibers.”

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, who had become familiar with Perrot’s case while she was a legal researcher at the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism at Brandeis University.

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 M.N.

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.

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.”

In 2018, Perrot filed a federal civil rights lawsuit seeking damages. The lawsuit was still pending at the end of 2023.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 11/3/2017
Last Updated: 1/26/2018
Most Serious Crime:Sexual Assault
Additional Convictions:Robbery, Assault, Burglary/Unlawful Entry
Reported Crime Date:1985
Age at the date of reported 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