Mark Denny with his mother, on Wednesday walked out of court an innocent man.
Mark Denny was only 16 years old in 1987 when he was convicted of the robbery and gang rape of an 18-year-old woman inside a Burger King in Brooklyn – Sentenced to serve 19 – 57 years in prison for the crime, Denny maintained his innocence all these years. Two other men also charged and convicted for the crime likewise said Denny was neither there at the crime scene nor participated in the crime, to no avail.
Denny now 47, has spent the past three decades behind bars for that brutal rape and robbery he didn’t commit.
But last week he received the greatest gift of all — his freedom. The Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office said Wednesday that it had moved to vacate Denny’s conviction and dismiss the indictment after an investigation revealed faulty witness identification.
“After a lengthy and extensive investigation into this horrific case, I have concluded that the cause of justice requires that we vacate the conviction of Mr. Denny,” acting Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez said.
“Expert analysis of his identification, an examination of the rest of the evidence and multiple accounts from witnesses and co-defendants all indicate that he was not present when this terrible crime was committed exactly 30 years ago.”
He was quietly released from prison last week, Wednesday, he appeared before Brooklyn Supreme Court where Justice Matthew D’Emic officially vacated the conviction.
The 17-year-old literally sent away for life three decades ago, at the age of 47, walked out of the courthouse an innocent man.
‘Overwhelmed’ – Mark Denny appears in Brooklyn Court with his attorneys on Wednesday to have his wrongful conviction for robbery and rape vacated
“I’m overwhelmed thinking of what I’ll do next to get my life back on track,” Denny said. “I have no ill feelings towards the victim. Going to prison was a traumatic experience mentally. There’s a lot of people in my position. I appreciate everyone for all they have done for me.”
Assistant District Attorney Mark Hale earlier said inside the courtroom, “This wasn’t the fault of the victim. The system didn’t have a grasp of the memory of a victim who has gone through a traumatic experience.”
Denny was exonerated with the help of the Innocence Project, which had been working on his case since 2009.
“Mr. Denny has been waiting for this day for a very long time,” said Nina Morrison, senior staff attorney for the Innocence Project. “We owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to District Attorney Eric Gonzalez and members of his conviction review unit for recognizing Mr. Denny’s innocence and taking extraordinary steps to right the wrongs that kept Mr. Denny incarcerated for his entire adult life.”
Denny was accused with three other defendants of a late-night gunpoint robbery and rape at a Brooklyn Burger King on Dec. 20, 1987.
The four were accused of forcing their way into the restaurant after closing and holding two employees, an 18-year-old woman and a man, hostage. They ordered the two employees to undress, took $3,000 from a safe and then raped and sodomized the woman in a back room.
The victim had a blindfold over her eyes during a portion of the attack and may have passed out.
Denny became a suspect in 1988 after his arrest two months earlier for gun possession. He had been arrested in a car with the three other defendants, who were wanted for robbing a Manhattan Burger King. The driver was his cousin Raphael James, who’d burglarized several Burger Kings in the city with two friends, Mark Smith and Eddie Viera, according to the Innocence Project.
Detectives showed the victim of the rape a picture of Denny, but she did not identify him. Two days later, she picked him from a lineup.
A triumphant Denny walks out of court, Wednesday with his jubilant mother [right]
Eddie Smith and Raphael James took plea deals.
James was tried and convicted with Denny, and James later admitted that his cousin had no involvement in the crimes.
Denny maintained his innocence the entire time, and there was no physical evidence connecting him to the crime scene. He also had an alibi, and his grandmother confirmed they’d been at his mother’s house in Queens the entire night.
The only admissible evidence against him was identification by the worker who was raped, even though she’d consistently stated that only three men were involved, only allowing for the possibility of a fourth suspect after Denny was arrested.
The male worker always maintained there were three suspects, and never identified Denny as one.
Six years after he was sentenced, James wrote a letter to the court and to the district attorney’s office, saying, “My conscience has been haunting me for years” because his own role in the crime had caused his young cousin, then aged 17, to be wrongfully convicted – on a long stretch.
Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez: “After a lengthy and extensive investigation into this horrific case, I have concluded that the cause of justice requires that we vacate the conviction of Mr. Denny”
During Denny’s trial, the victim was vague in her description of him and his actions.
Dr. Jennifer Dysart, a psychology professor at John Jay College, said the case had problems with witness reliability — including the victim’s limited opportunity to see her attackers, the existence of a gun, the extreme stress from the attack and the time lapse between the incident and the identification process.
“The combination (of) all these factors significantly decreased the likelihood that an accurate identification could have been made by the victim in this case,” Dysart said.The DA noted in his announcement that Denny’s fingerprints were also not found at the crime scene.
However, prints belonging to Raphael James, and Eddie Veira, two of his co-defendants’ were recovered at the Burger King crime scene.
Raphael James, was convicted by a jury and was sentenced to serve 16 to 48 years in prison. He was paroled in 2015.
The third co-defendant, Eddie Veira, admitted his involvement and pled guilty.
The other defendant had his case dismissed during a second trial because the victim was emotionally unable to testify.
Denny’s co-defendants all told the DA’s conviction review unit that Denny was not involved, still he was convicted in 1989 and sentenced to serve 19 to 57 years in prison.
Denny has always maintained his innocence, through multiple parole hearings.
Now that his innocence has been established, Denny still faces some legal hurdles. As a child, he came to the United State from Guyana as a lawful permanent resident.
While in prison, he was ordered to be deported due to his convictions. His hope for a reprieve lies with the Cardozo Law School’s Immigration Justice Clinic who are working to reopen his case and prevent his removal from the country.
Denny was the 24th person to have his conviction vacated by the DA’s Conviction Review Unit.