Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content

Leonard Mack

Other New York Exonerations with DNA Evidence
On May 22, 1975, a 17-year-old high-school student in Greenburgh, New York, reported that she had been sexually assaulted on her way home from school.

The girl said that she and a female friend were in a wooded area near Woodlands High School at about 3:15 p.m. when a man approached and held them at gunpoint. He used his belt and other material to restrain the young women, blindfolding and gagging them and binding their wrists and ankles. He raped one of the young women. The other broke free and ran for help.

The students described the assailant as a Black man in his early 20s, clean-shaven, with close-cropped hair. They said he wore a black hat with a white brim, black pants, and a tan jacket, and he had a gold earring in his left ear. The teenagers also said the assailant brandished either a .22- or .32-caliber gun.

The Greenburgh police broadcast this description across Westchester County. The girl who was raped was taken to a local hospital, where a rape kit was collected.

About two hours later, Officer James Fleming of the Westchester County Parkway Police pulled over 23-year-old Leonard Mack and told Mack that he fit the description given by the victims.

At the time, Mack was a veteran of the Vietnam War and lived in New Rochelle, in southern Westchester County. Although Mack was wearing a black Fedora and had a gold earring in his left ear, his clothing did not match the description provided by the two teenagers. Mack told Fleming he wasn’t involved in any assault and had been with his girlfriend at the time. Fleming searched Mack’s car and arrested him after finding a .22-caliber revolver in the trunk.

The student who had not been raped was brought to the location of the traffic stop and viewed Mack, who was in handcuffs, surrounded by Fleming and six police cars. After asking police to reposition Mack, she identified him as the assailant.

Later, at the Greenburgh Police Department, she viewed a photo array of seven Black men and selected Mack’s photograph. In the array, Mack’s photo was distinctive. It showed his clothing. In addition, a calendar displaying May 1975 was visible in the photo’s background.

Later that night, the girl went to the Parkway Police station and viewed Mack through a one-way mirror. Fleming would later testify that it was not “feasible” to put together a live line-up of Black men because Greenburgh was “basically white.” The girl told police that Mack was wearing the wrong clothes, and they showed her clothing options and allowed her to pick out other clothes for Mack to wear. She again identified Mack.

After the girl who was raped left the hospital, she went to the Greenburgh police station. The girl was legally blind and said she could not detect gender from a distance beyond 10 feet and could not see the color of a person’s clothing from beyond five feet. She said she thought she recognized Mack’s shirt in his photo but wasn’t sure.

The girl was taken to the Parkway Police headquarters and viewed Mack through the one-way mirror. Her friend was present and said, “That’s him.” The girl could not identify Mack with certainty and asked if she could hear his voice. The police had Mack say, “Don’t scream, don’t turn around or I’ll kill you.” Based on this, the girl identified Mack as the assailant.

Mack was charged with first-degree rape and two counts of criminal possession of a weapon. He went to trial in Westchester County Supreme Court in March 1976. The two teenagers, both who were Black, testified in court that Mack was the man who assaulted them in the woods. Three alibi witnesses—Mack’s girlfriend and two mechanics who had looked at his car the afternoon of the attack—testified that Mack was elsewhere at the time. Mack also testified and denied any involvement.

State investigators had tested the victim’s underwear and a vaginal swab and found biological material on the underwear that tested positive for acid phosphatase, a marker for the presence of semen.

Based on further testing, the lab’s technicians concluded that the victim was a non-secretor, one of a small percentage of people who did not secrete blood type antigens into their bodily fluids. Therefore, she could not be the source of the antigens detected in the biological material. The state did not submit the report into evidence and objected when Mack’s attorney moved to present expert testimony on the results, claiming a lack of foundation for the testimony.

Justice Duncan McNab allowed the testimony by Dr. Alexander Wiener, with the Office of Chief Medical Examiner in New York City. Although DNA testing was not available at the time of the trial, Wiener testified that Mack’s blood type was excluded from the biological material.

In rebuttal, a forensic scientist from Westchester County testified incorrectly that a person could be a secretor for some bodily fluids but not others, giving the impression that the victim could have been the source of the biological evidence.

The jury convicted Mack on all charges on March 29, 1976, and he was sentenced to 7½ to 15 years in prison. His conviction was affirmed on appeal in 1977, and Mack later filed two motions for new trials, both in 1980, which were denied.

Mack was released on parole on December 13, 1982. He later moved to South Carolina.

In 2019, Mack contacted the Innocence Project and asked for the organization’s assistance. It accepted his case in May 2022 and six months later asked the Westchester County District Attorney’s Conviction Review Unit (CRU) to review Mack’s claim of innocence.

The CRU’s investigation found that the eyewitness identifications were “tainted by problematic and suggestive procedures used by the police.”

Separately, the CRU located the victim’s underwear and Mack’s underwear. The Westchester County Department of Laboratories and Research tested this evidence and excluded Mack as the source of the DNA on the victim’s underwear. The DNA evidence was then uploaded to the state and local DNA database.

The search yielded a hit on a man who was convicted of a burglary and rape in Queens that occurred weeks after this crime. He also had a 2004 conviction for burglary and sexual assault of a woman in Westchester County. An investigator with the district attorney’s office interviewed the man, who confessed to committing the Greenburgh rape. Because of the statute of limitations, he could not be prosecuted for that crime.

On August 31, 2023, District Attorney Miriam Rocah filed a motion asking a judge to vacate Mack’s convictions.

“We were able to prove Mr. Mack’s innocence, in large part, due to our independent Conviction Review Unit’s commitment and Mr. Mack’s unwavering strength fighting to clear his name for almost 50 years,” Rocah said.

The duration of Mack’s wrongful conviction, more than 48 years, is the longest in U.S. history to be overturned by DNA evidence.

On September 5, 2023, Justice Anne Minihan vacated Mack’s convictions and dismissed his charges. She came off the bench to shake Mack’s hand and give him a hug.

“While this is in many respects a joyful day, none of us lose sight of the fact that this is a rainbow at the end of a terrible storm,” Justice Minihan said.

Susan Friedman, one of Mack’s attorneys with the Innocence Project, said: “Mr. Mack has lived with the stigma of this wrongful conviction for nearly five decades. His courage and determination are why we now have indisputable scientific evidence that proves he is innocent.” She said his case had many of the hallmarks of a wrongful conviction, including witness misidentifications and tunnel vision by investigators.

“For 48 years, 48 long years, I walked around society being labeled a rapist when I knew I didn’t do it,” Mack said. “But I never gave up hope. It kept me going. Now that this day is here, I just thank God. I thank God that finally the truth came out. Now I can truly say that I’m free. Not when I got out of Sing Sing, but when I walk out of here today. After 48 years. I’m walking out a free man.”

Mack filed a claim for compensation from the state of New York in February 2024.

– Ken Otterbourg

Report an error or add more information about this case.

Posting Date: 9/14/2023
Last Updated: 3/30/2024
State:New York
Most Serious Crime:Sexual Assault
Additional Convictions:Weapon Possession or Sale
Reported Crime Date:1975
Sentence:7 1/2 to 15 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