Convicted of robbery and rape in New York in 1985, Marion Coakley was exonerated 25 months later after new tests were conducted, indicating that there was no match between the blood and semen belonging to Coakley and those belonging to the rapist.
On October 13, 1983, Olga Delgado and Gabriel Vargas spent the night at the Bronx Park Motel in New York City. In the early morning hours, a stranger broke into their room asking for money. The robber locked Vargas in a closet and raped Delgado. Afterwards, the stranger proceeded to ask for more money and Delgado agreed to drive him to her home where more money could be found. When they arrived at Delgado’s apartment complex, the stranger fled after seeing the silhouette of Delgado’s brother-in-law, Jose Rios, at the apartment door, abandoning the car near the Bronx Park Motel.
Marion Coakley, a mentally impaired 28-year-old part-time contract worker, was arrested two days later and was positively identified in a line-up viewed by Vargas, Rios and Delgado. Each independently described the perpetrator as a black male with a dark complexion, about 26 to 28 years old, five feet seven inches tall, weighing about 150-160 pounds, with a mustache, a “beard” or “stubble” of chin hair and a short “afro” haircut. Rios identified Coakley’s photograph from the photo trays of possible suspects. The police had Coakley’s photo from a previous arrest. Coakley is black, but not dark complexioned, and did not have an afro haircut on the day of his arrest.
From the time of his arrest, Coakley maintained his innocence and stated he had been at a Bible study meeting at the time of the crime. He immediately provided eight alibi witnesses and also demanded, took, and passed a polygraph test. At trial, the jury was forced to resolve the discrepancies in the testimony between the eyewitnesses and the alibi witnesses. In June 1985, the jury convicted Coakley and the judge sentenced him to prison for an indeterminate term from 5 to 15 years.
The defense attorneys from Legal Aid appealed Coakley’s case in July 1986, and new tests were ordered to compare the rapist’s blood type and semen to that of Coakley. Tests indicated that there was no match on the blood type markers in the perpetrator’s semen and Coakley’s blood type. In September 1986, Coakley was released from state prison pending the outcome of his appeal. The New York State Supreme Court vacated Coakley’s conviction and dismissed the charges on December 15, 1987, after two assistant district attorneys stated there was insufficient evidence to retry Coakley.
- Hyungjoo Han
The National Registry of Exonerations is a project of the Newkirk Center for Science & Society at University of California Irvine, the University of Michigan Law School and Michigan State University College of Law. It was founded in 2012 in conjunction with the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law. The Registry provides detailed information about every known exoneration in the United States since 1989—cases in which a person was wrongly convicted of a crime and later cleared of all the charges based on new evidence of innocence. The Registry also maintains a more limited database of known exonerations prior to 1989.
We welcome new information from any source about exonerations already on our list and about cases not in the Registry that might be exonerations.