In the early morning hours of February 23, 1998, a 27-year-old woman was attacked in a phone booth in the Bronx, New York. She was dragged out of the booth into an alley. The man then attempted to rape her, ripping off her clothes and pushing himself first against her vagina and then her face. The attacker squeezed the victim's neck and told her he was going to have to "put her to sleep." The woman escaped when a neighbor in a nearby apartment heard yelling and shouted at the attacker, prompting him to flee.
At the time, police were searching for a man dubbed the “Bronx Rapist” by the media because of numerous attacks on women in the Bronx. The victim was taken to a hospital where sexual assault evidence was collected, including scrapings from under the victim’s fingernails.
The victim helped police create a composite sketch of her attacker and after it was published in the media, a tipster (who was never identified) called police and said the sketch resembled 41-year-old Tyrone Hicks.
On March 18, 1998, Hicks was placed in a live lineup and the victim identified him as her attacker. He was charged with first degree attempted rape and first degree attempted sodomy.
Hicks, who had prior convictions for drug possession, went on trial in Bronx County Supreme Court in June 2000. The only evidence against him was the victim’s identification—no physical or forensic evidence connected him to the crime. The defense pointed out that the victim had given inconsistent descriptions of her attacker at various times. Two alibi witnesses, including Hicks’s son-in-law, testified that Hicks was at home at the time of the crime.
On June 15, 2000, Hicks was convicted of first degree attempted rape and first degree attempted sodomy. He was sentenced to eight years in prison, the minimum sentence allowed under the law.
While Hicks was in prison, he wrote to the Post-Conviction Project at Pace Law School. After his release in 2007, Pace Post-Conviction Project students discovered the fingernail scrapings, which had never been tested.
In 2009, the New York Office of the Medical Examiner, with the consent of the Bronx District Attorney, conducted DNA tests on a wooden dowel that was used to scrape the victim's fingernails. The tests revealed a partial DNA profile. In 2010, the Medical Examiner issued a report that the male DNA profile did not match Hicks. The DNA profile was only a partial profile that was sufficient to exclude Hicks, but was not sufficient to send to the FBI's DNA dataset to determine if it matched to a convicted felon.
The Post-Conviction Project filed a motion for a new trial. At the suggestion of the Post-Conviction Project, police began to reinvestigate the cluster of rapes and sexual assaults that occurred in the same Bronx neighborhood at the time of the attack for which Hicks was charged. They discovered that 14-year-old Marleny Cruz had been raped and murdered across the street on the very same day of the attack for which Hicks was charged. There was biological evidence from the rape which was submitted for DNA testing and a profile was developed and submitted to the FBI database.
In 2012, the profile was matched to James Martin, who was in a Pennsylvania prison after being convicted of killing his wife. Martin was charged with and pled guilty to the rape and murder of Cruz. He denied committing the attack for which Hicks was wrongly convicted.
In October 2012, Bronx County Supreme Court Justice Darcel Clark disagreed with the prosecution's claim that the test results in the Hicks case were not proof of innocence because there was no evidence that the victim ever scratched or came into contact with her attacker. Clark granted Hicks's motion for a new trial.
The justice ruled that the victim’s trial testimony about her “strenuous physical struggle” using her hands to fight with her attacker supported the defense’s claim that the male DNA found under her fingernails came from her attacker.
The prosecution appealed and in February 2014, the Appellate Division of the New York Supreme Court upheld Justice Clark's ruling. On May 15, 2014, the Bronx County District Attorney dismissed the charges.
– Maurice Possley