WHITE PLAINS, Westchester County (WABC) -- The last time Leonard Mack walked into the Westchester County Courthouse he was in handcuffs, about to be sentenced to prison for rape. Tuesday was different.
"After 48 years, I'm finally going to get closure to this and clear my name," he said.
In 1975, the Vietnam veteran was charged with tying up two high school students at gunpoint and brutally raping one of them.
He was identified after questionable police tactics: his clothing was changed to match the description of the suspect, and his picture was the only Black man included in a photo array.
"People just don't know how it feels to be accused of something you didn't do," he said.
Mack, 72, served his entire 7-and-a-half-year sentence but kept fighting to clear his name.
The Innocence Project took up the case and the Westchester District Attorney Office's Conviction Review Unit had DNA evidence tested -- something that didn't exist at the time of his trial.
Not only did it clear Mack, it linked another man to the crime, who confessed.
District Attorney Miriam Rocah pointed out that the wrongful conviction not only robbed Mack of his freedom, but it also failed the public.
"Because while the wrongfully convicted sit behind bars, the actual perpetrators are free to commit additional crimes which is what we believe happened in this case," Rocah said.
In court, Mack tearfully described living nearly 50 years with the stigma and shame of being labeled a rapist.
The miscarriage of justice drew apologies from the district attorney and an emotional exchange with the judge who finalized his exoneration.
"And now I can truly say, now I can truly say that I'm free," Mack said.
The person who confessed to the rape cannot be prosecuted due to the statute of limitations. He was convicted of another rape just two weeks after this crime. He pleaded guilty to a sex offense in 2004 and is currently being prosecuted for failing to register with authorities as a registered sex offender.
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