Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Another Man Freed From Prinson Following DNA Test

I swear, I would not be so calm and sanguine if I had had a quarter century of my life stolen from me.

ST. PETERSBURG - As supporters cheered and his lawyers fought tears, a St. Petersburg man went free Monday, proven innocent by his own DNA and long-lost evidence after spending nearly a quarter-century in prison.

After a Tampa judge uttered the magic words, ''You're a free man,'' Alan Crotzer, 45, became the fifth person in Florida to be exonerated by DNA evidence after conviction.

Crotzer's release also comes as Florida lawmakers consider whether to extend or abolish a controversial July deadline for submitting DNA claims. Crotzer, a soft-spoken, slim man, spent his first moments of freedom learning how to use a cellphone and open a hotel door with a swipe card, technologies that were not around in 1982, the year an all-white jury deliberated for an hour before convicting him and a judge sentenced him to 130 years. He also treated himself to a bath, a luxury he could only dream of for the past 24 years.

''I was blessed to have these people trying to get me out because they knew I didn't do anything,'' said Crotzer, grinning widely and surrounded by well-wishers at a party thrown Monday to celebrate his release. ''I am just thankful for that. You know, I'm not bitter. No bitterness.''

Crotzer and two other men, Douglas and Corlenzo James, were convicted of robbing a Tampa family using a sawed-off shotgun in July 1981. Douglas James and Crotzer were also found guilty of kidnapping and raping the family's 38-year-old mother and her 12-year-old daughter. One of the victims picked Crotzer out of a police photo lineup, and the jury sided with prosecutors, who painted him as the ringleader.

And is it my imagination, or are a hugely disproportionate number of these freed men black and Latino?


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