Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Wrongfully convicted man says he's far from alone

Wrongfully convicted man says he's far from alone

Staff photo by CHRIS URSO

"There’s more innocent people in prison,'' said Alan Crotzer, 48. "Without a shadow of a doubt.''


By RAY REYES The Tampa Tribune

Published: December 14, 2009

Related Links

Crotzer discusses his case
Former inmate gets $1.25 million
Photos of the case
Bain case reviews DNA

ST. PETERSBURG - Alan Crotzer knows what it is like to be innocent of a crime even when a jury decides otherwise.

Convicted of kidnapping, robbery and rape when he was 19, Crotzer grew old in prison and thought he was going to die there.

Then technology set him free.

DNA testing, which did not exist when Crotzer was convicted of kidnapping, robbery and rape in 1981, exonerated him of the charges in 2006. The same technology may help inmate James Bernard Bain, who was convicted of raping a Lake Wales boy in 1974.

DNA test results released Thursday showed Bain's DNA does not match any samples taken from the 9-year-old victim's underwear. The Tallahassee-based Innocence Project of Florida, which took on Crotzer's case, is now working to reunite Bain with his family by Christmas.

The Innocence Project screens and investigates cases with evidence — typically the DNA in biological evidence — that a person has been wrongly imprisoned.

"The technology is a godsend. Without it, we would've died in prison," Crotzer said Monday night before he took the stage for a roundtable discussion on wrongful imprisonment hosted by the Stetson University College of Law and The Studio@620 in St. Petersburg.

The discussions are held for the public about five times a year. It was coincidence that Bain's case made headlines a week before the Social Justice Roundtable was to present the issue of wrongful imprisonment, although that particular discussion was planned months in advance, coordinator Alizza Punzalan-Hall said.

"We're honored to have somebody like Alan who can really talk about second chances," Punzalan-Hall said.

But the second chances don't come easy and re-entering society can be harrowing, Crotzer said.

"When I got out, I didn't know what a cell phone was," Crotzer said. "To me, it was like a tri-corder on 'Star Trek.'"

Bain, who was 19 when he was convicted on rape charges, faces similar hurdles after 35 years behind bars, Crotzer said.

"It's going to be tough," Crotzer said. "The community needs to get behind him. The community was the reason I was able to function."

Crotzer said he is working with various agencies to establish a program that helps released inmates readjust to society. He said there may be hundreds of Florida inmates doing time for crimes they did not commit.

"There's more innocent people in prison," Crotzer, 48, said. "Without a shadow of a doubt."

In 2007, the state compensated Crotzer $1.25 million for his wrongful imprisonment. He now works with the state's department of juvenile justice, mentoring teens.

He said he feels no bitterness about what happened to him but has lost faith in the justice system. He said he hopes Bain will also receive compensation and gets the support he needs to find a job, a place to live and a purpose in his life.

"He's going to get a crash course," Crotzer said. "It's a brand new world."

Bain's attorneys are submitting motions for his post-conviction release. Meanwhile, the Polk County State Attorney's Office has received the DNA test results and is reviewing Bain's case.

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