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Michael Collins, Jr.

In February 1954, an officer in the Women’s Army Corps reported that a man had attempted to rape her at the barracks at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. While this crime was under investigation, the secretary of a visiting Air Force general said she was sexually assaulted at Fort Bragg on April 6, 1954.

On April 15, 1954, 27-year-old Lieutenant Michael J. Collins Jr. was charged with both sexual assaults. Collins, who had been awarded an Air Medal and a Purple Heart, among other military medals, was tried by a General Court Martial for the February attempted rape and acquitted.

In June 1954, a General Court Martial tried Collins for the April assault. The victim was unable to identify Collins. The evidence against Collins included a fingerprint from the doorway of the victim’s room, which Army investigators said matched his fingerprint. Additionally, the Army’s trial counsel presented evidence that a beer can found near the crime scene had a stock number matching the beer cans in a pack that Collins had been drinking on the night of the crime.

Collins was found guilty of attempted rape and sentenced to 10 years at hard labor. He was also dishonorably discharged and stripped of his rank.

In November 1954, the Army Board of Review affirmed his conviction.

Believing his son had been falsely convicted, Collins’s father, Michael Collins Sr., mortgaged his home and spent over $13,000 to hire detectives, fingerprint expert Lawrence A. Kelly, and a team of attorneys led by Washington attorney Joseph McCann.

McCann and the private detectives learned from the victim of the February assault that she had specifically told the Army investigators that Collins was not her attacker. She said the investigators had tried to persuade her to change her mind and identify Collins, but she had refused. McCann and the defense team uncovered other new evidence supporting Collins’s innocence and suggesting fraud on the part of Army investigators with regard to the fingerprint evidence introduced at the trial. In June 1955, McCann filed a motion for a new trial with the Judge Advocate General.

In December 1955, after launching its own investigation, the Judge Advocate General granted Collins’s motion for a new trial, and the charges against Collins were dismissed on January 21, 1956. Collins received his back pay and allowances for the prior 20 months. His military records were also corrected.

Major Robert M. Mummy of the Judge Advocate General’s office investigated the misconduct related to Collins’s conviction in evaluating possible disciplinary action against the Army investigators involved. Mummy reported his findings on March 4, 1957. Regarding the fingerprint on the victim’s door, Mummy report stated that it “was either a forgery … or was placed on the doorknob when Collins was returned to the scene purportedly to reenact the escape.”

Mummy’s report also found that investigators had worked to “systematically remove or withhold from the record most of the evidence favorable to Collins.” The report stated that the Army investigator’s testimony regarding the stock number was purposefully misleading, creating the impression that the beer can at the scene of the crime must have come from Collins. However, prior to the trial, this Army investigator had contacted the local beer distributor and learned that over 2,100 cases of that beer with the same stock number had been sold in the area. Despite these findings, an Army spokesperson said that no disciplinary action was taken against the officers involved, though they were assigned to different jobs.

In May 1961, President John F. Kennedy signed a special act of Congress directing the payment of $25,000 to Collins. This special act noted that Collins’s conviction had been “based upon fraudulent evidence fabricated and produced by certain unscrupulous members of the United States Army.” President Kennedy sent Collins a personal note and ordered further investigation of the misconduct that caused this miscarriage of justice, though available records do not provide any details on that investigation.

- Meghan Barrett Cousino
State:Mil - Federal
Most Serious Crime:Sexual Assault
Reported Crime Date:1954
Sentence:10 years
Race/Ethnicity:Don't Know
Age at the date of crime:27
Contributing Factors:False or Misleading Forensic Evidence, Official Misconduct