Imagine spending 26 years in prison. Then imagine spending 26 years in prison knowing you’re innocent, and the person who put you there had made it all up.
It’s hard to comprehend, but it’s exactly what happened to Gregory Counts and VanDyke Perry.
In January 1991, when Counts was 19-years-old and Perry was 21-years-old, both men were charged with rape, kidnapping and criminal possession of a weapon after a woman claimed she’d been kidnapped at knife point by three black men – who she identified.
The third kidnapper was never caught, reports the The New York Times.
However, investigators were going off nothing other than the accuser’s testimony. There was no physical evidence, semen recovered from the woman did not match Counts or Perry, and her recounting of the crime was inconsistent.
The woman, who’s not been identified, was allegedly a ‘recovering crack addict’ and it was suggested she’d ‘fabricated the story’ to protect her boyfriend – he was wanted by police after allegedly shooting Perry two months earlier.
The jury found Perry and Counts guilty on all counts, except for the weapons charges. Perry spent 11 years in prison, Counts, 26.
On Monday, May 7, both men returned to court to hear Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., ask a judge in State Supreme Court to revoke their convictions based on new DNA evidence, as well as the woman’s decision to withdraw her testimony.
Counts broke down as he entered the court, saying:
I can’t be angry. If I waste a minute being angry it’s a waste of time. That’s a minute I could have been happy.
New evidence came to light after DNA testing connected the semen found on the woman’s body to another man through an F.B.I database.
She then admitted to investigators the rape ‘never happened’, and her boyfriend had forced her to make the fake accusations.
"I didn't want to waste one more minute being angry when I could spend that minute being happy." -Greg Counts, exonerated after 26 years in prison for a crime that never happened: https://t.co/SVwJcJ08LG (Photo by @sameerak_) pic.twitter.com/GG3Om0S3Ie
— Innocence Project (@innocence) May 7, 2018
After the recent court case, Perry said:
This wrongful conviction destroyed my life, but I never gave up my fight.
The attorney for Counts and Perry, Cyrus R. Vance Jr, said:
At the end of the day, nothing will give these men back the years away from family, or the years spent in prison. No apology can make them whole.
This case is a tragedy for everyone involved. It is every district attorney’s nightmare that any innocent man or woman would go to jail.
The case was reopened in 2012 after attorneys, working with the Innocence Project contacted the district attorney’s office requesting physical evidence of the case.
In 2015 the DNA was retested and was found to belong to a man who died in 2011.
Following Perry’s release, he moved to Portland, Oregon, married and had six children. Despite struggling with the ‘sex offender’ label, he worked building houses and cars, eventually starting a landscaping business. Appearing in court on Monday was the first time he’d been back to New York since his release.
Counts struggled to find a job after his release, as employers were put off by his record, but has had the continual support of his family.
Thanks to the recent hearing, the future is looking brighter not just for Counts and Perry, but for all those who’ve been wrongfully imprisoned.
If you have a story you want to tell send it to UNILAD via [email protected]
Charlie Cocksedge is a journalist at UNILAD. He graduated from the University of Manchester with an MA in Creative Writing, where he learnt how to write in the third person, before getting his NCTJ. His work has also appeared in such places as The Guardian, PN Review and the bin.