"Maher had always asserted his innocence. In 1993, he wrote to the Innocence Project. The Project tried repeatedly to gain access to the biological evidence collected from the victims but was told that the evidence could not be located."
This reminds me of the fingerprints taken from the phone in the Ben LaGuer case. Once the police realized they didn't match LaGuer they filed them away without sharing them with defense, then lost them. Since the phone was ripped from the wall by the assailant they could have been used to prove LaGuer's innocence.
A short review of the benlaguer.com website will make anyone interested wonder how our justice system can make so many mistakes in the same case and still try to imply there is no cause to question the conviction. Here is some information about Mr. Maher from the The Innocence Project:
Incident Year: 1983
Charge: Rape, Assault w/ Intent to Rape, Assault & Battery, Aggravated Rape
Conviction: Rape, Assault w/ Intent to Rape, Assault & Battery, Aggravated Rape
Year of Conviction: 1984
Exoneration Date: 4/3/03
Sentence Served: 19 Years
Real perpetrator found? Not Yet
Contributing Causes: Eyewitness Misidentification
On November 16, 1983, a 28-year-old woman was attacked as she was walking home from work in Lowell, Massachusetts. An unknown man accosted her and tried to engage her in conversation before forcing her into a nearby yard, where he sexually assaulted her. The following evening, a 23-year-old woman was attacked less than one hundred yards away from the site of the first assault.
The second victim had been on her way home from work when she was pushed to the ground by a man wielding a knife. She was able to escape her assailant after a vehement struggle and notified the police. The victim described her attacker as a man wearing a red, hooded sweatshirt and a khaki military-style jacket.
Dennis Maher was stopped and questioned by police on the night of the second attack. He was wearing a red, hooded sweatshirt and a subsequent search of his vehicle turned up an army field jacket, a military issue knife, and a rain slicker. Maher, then a sergeant in the United States Army, was arrested and charged with the two attacks, as well as an unsolved rape that occurred the previous summer in Ayer, Massachusetts. Though their descriptions varied, all three victims identified Maher in photographic lineups.
The Lowell attacks were tried together. Although no biological evidence linked him to the crime, Maher was convicted of both crimes. A month later, he was convicted of the Ayer rape, where biological evidence was introduced but never tested. The prosecution relied, instead, on the identifications made by the victims.
Maher had always asserted his innocence. In 1993, he wrote to the Innocence Project. The Project tried repeatedly to gain access to the biological evidence collected from the victims but was told that the evidence could not be located. In 2000, the case was transferred to the New England Innocence Project. The case picked up momentum when, in 2001, a law student discovered two boxes of evidence from the Lowell case in the basement of the Middlesex County Courthouse. The boxes contained the pants and underwear collected from the rape victim. The Massachusetts State Police Crime Laboratory found seminal stains on the underwear and possible blood stains on the pants. The New England Innocence Project and the prosecution agreed to send the evidence to Forensic Science Associates (FSA) for DNA testing.
Testing performed on the pants did not yield conclusive results. Testing on the underwear, however, produced a genetic profile that excluded Dennis Maher as the donor of spermatozoa to the sample. Shortly after testing was completed, prosecutors were able to locate a slide from the Ayer case, which was sent to Orchid Cellmark for testing. Results from the Ayer evidence were received in March 2003, again excluding Maher as the source of spermatozoa.
After reviewing the results, the Middlesex County District Attorney's Office joined with the Innocence Projects in filing a motion to grant Maher a new trial and agreed to drop all charges against him.
On April 3, 2003, after 19 years of proclaiming his innocence, Dennis Maher was exonerated and freed from prison.
I wonder why there is so much confidence in Ben LaGuer's conviction that we cannot re investigate the circumstances and be sure. The most prominent response that I have heard to this question is that LaGuer has had his day in court and that he was convicted. In light of the factual truth that some people have been wrongfully convicted like Mr. Dennis Maher, is this answer good enough? Our government, our justice system, is only as good as our participation in it. Review LaGuer's case and ask yourself, is this the justice I want for myself and my loved ones? Precedent has been set, and in LaGuer's case there seems to be no relief in site. Our system is set up to assume guilt once you have been convicted, and it makes questioning a wrongful conviction almost impossible. If we learn nothing else from LaGuer's case we should take this lesson home and find a better way to handle these issues.
LaGuer is up for parole in June 2008, having served 25 years of a life sentence. He's made a name for himself as a writer, winning a PEN award, and he has graduated from Boston University's undergraduate program Magna Cum Laude. Although a model prisoner his release is planned to be denied as it has been before based on his inability to confess to his guilt. LaGuer has said, "I will not admit to this horrible crime of which I am innocent. I will not besmirch my father's name, even for the sake of my freedom." Ask yourself this question; when was the last time you saw a man so concerned about proving his innocence while so unconcerned with his freedom? Perhaps the victim was wrong, just like in the case of Dennis Maher.
Congratulations to Dennis and the Innocence Project for having the faith and determination to bring about justice when those who are charged with the resonsibility have neglected it.