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Robert Czubryt

Other Massachusetts Exonerations with Mistaken Witness ID
On December 4, 2008, a 36-year-old man (identified by a pseudonym as Ronald) attending a dinner at St. Stephen’s Church in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, reported that a man had groped him while he was in the church bathroom. Ronald, who was developmentally disabled due to a car accident when he was a baby, told a volunteer and the coordinator of the soup kitchen. They took him across the street to the Pittsfield police department.

Ronald described the man as 5 feet 2 inches tall, having brown eyes and brown hair, and clean-shaven.

A week later, on December 11, Detective John Gray met Ronald at the church dinner. Gray knew Ronald and was aware that Ronald had suffered a traumatic brain injury in a car accident when he was 2½ weeks old. Gray asked Ronald to tell someone if he saw the man who had touched him.

About a half hour after Gray left, Ronald called over one of the dinner organizers and pointed out 50-year-old Robert Czubryt, who was sitting alone at a table across the room, as the man who had touched him. Czubryt was 5 feet 9 inches tall, and had green eyes, gray hair, and a beard.

Detective Gray was notified and he walked across the street from the police station. He interviewed Czubryt, who said he had been at the dinner a week earlier. Czubryt said he never used the church bathroom, that people didn’t like him, and that he was the subject of false allegations. He denied having any problems with anyone at the church dinners.

On January 15, 2009, Ronald, accompanied by his father, came to the police station for a videotaped interview with Detective Gray. During the interview, Gray showed Ronald an array of eight photographs that included a photograph of Czubryt. Ronald pointed to someone other than Czubryt and said, “That’s him.”

Gray asked Ronald if he was sure and then asked Ronald to look at the photographs again, one at a time. During this procedure, Ronald selected Czubryt’s photograph. Gray would later testify that Ronald was very nervous and wanted to know if he was in trouble.

In March 2009, Czubryt was arraigned on a charge of indecent assault and battery upon a mentally retarded person. On February 1, when Czubryt went to trial in Pittsfield District Court, the prosecution amended the charge to indecent assault and battery on a person over 14.

During the trial, Gray testified about the identification procedure, and a portion of the videotape showing Ronald’s identification of Czubryt was shown to the jury.

The defense presented a witness who testified that Czubryt had not been clean-shaven for many years, and that he was seven inches taller than the person Ronald described. He also testified that Czubryt had green eyes and gray hair, not brown eyes and brown hair.

On February 2, 2010, the jury convicted Czubryt and he was sentenced to 60 days in jail. He was released after serving 45 days in custody.

In January 2013, Czubryt, represented by the Massachusetts Committee for Public Service Counsel’s Innocence Project, filed a motion for a new trial. The motion contended that Czubryt’s trial defense lawyer had provided an inadequate legal defense by failing to introduce evidence of Ronald’s traumatic brain injury, which had rendered his vision so poor that he qualified for benefits from the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind.

The motion was supported by an affidavit from Dr. William Rinn, an expert on traumatic brain injury and its effect on memory and cognitive abilities.

In February 2015, Judge Fredric Rutberg granted the motion for a new trial and vacated Czubryt’s conviction. The judge noted that the post-trial hearing was the “first time” he had heard that Ronald had severely impaired vision, and that he could see how that information “could easily affect the outcome of the case.”

The judge said he was granting the motion because of the “failure of trial counsel to make even a cursory exploration of the extent of (Ronald’s) vision problems.”

The prosecution appealed.

On May 19, 2016, the Appeals Court of Massachusetts upheld the ruling granting a new trial. The court noted that “had trial counsel explored the victim’s vision problems, which he knew of (prior to trial)…he could have subpoenaed and obtained the victim’s medical and mental health records, as the defendant’s appellate counsel did through post-trial motions.”

“Therein, he would have found direct evidence of the victim’s severe vision problems,” the court said. “Those records indicated…that the victim: has been diagnosed with tunnel vision; refused to use adaptive equipment, such as a cane and adaptive eyeglasses, that would be helpful to him; and was eligible for, but had not requested services through the Massachusetts Commission for the blind.”

On June 29, 2016, the prosecution dismissed the charge.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 4/30/2018
Most Serious Crime:Sexual Assault
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2008
Sentence:2 months
Age at the date of reported crime:50
Contributing Factors:Mistaken Witness ID, Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No