S5E5: Malcolm Alexander: An Innocent Man, a One Day Trial and 38 Years in Prison—A Tragic Miscarriage of Justice
Malcolm Alexander was wrongfully convicted for a 1979 rape in Gretna, LA and spent nearly four decades incarcerated before DNA evidence proved his innocence. In February 1980, police arrested 20-year-old Malcolm Alexander after a white woman accused him of sexually assaulting her. Malcolm, who is black, told police that the sex occurred after he gave the woman money and that it was consensual. This encounter, which was uncorroborated and later dropped, prompted police to place Malcolm’s photo in an array that was shown to the 1979 rape victim over four months after she was attacked at gunpoint by a complete stranger. The assailant was behind the victim for the entirety of the crime, and her opportunity to view him was extremely limited. According to police reports, the victim “tentatively” selected Malcolm Alexander’s photo. Yet, police conducted a physical line-up three days later that included Malcolm, who was the only person from the photo array who was shown again to the victim in the physical line-up. Again, the victim made a “possible” identification and the word “tentative” was written next to Malcolm’s line-up number. However, when the original detective returned later that day to record a statement from the victim, the victim’s confidence was recorded as 98% sure that Malcolm Alexander was the assailant. He was arrested and charged with aggravated rape and he went to trial on November 5, 1980. The entire trial—from selection of the jury until the jury’s guilty verdict—lasted one day, and he was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Malcolm’s paid attorney, who was subsequently disbarred, failed to make court appearances and to file important pleadings, including a motion challenging the identification. The Innocence Project first took up Malcolm Alexander’s case in 1996 but quickly learned that the rape kit and a semen-stained towel had been destroyed only four years after his conviction. In 2013, new hair evidence recovered from the crime scene was found at the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office Crime Lab. The tests showed that all three hairs came from the same person, and Malcolm Alexander was excluded as the source of the hairs. On January 30, 2018, absolved of the crime thanks to DNA evidence, Malcolm Alexander walked free from the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola after serving 38 years. He is joined by his son Malcolm Jr. and Innocence Project's Director of Post-Conviction Litigation, Vanessa Potkin, in this episode.
Wrongful Conviction with Jason Flom is a production of Lava For Good™ Podcasts in association with Signal Co. No1 and PRX