Monday, December 14, 2009

Man rotted in prison for three years after being convicted on testimony of rape liar

Canastota man seeks $8 million for wrongful conviction

Daniel Lackey, who spent three years in prison, wasn’t mentally competent to provide a confession, lawyer says.

By Aaron Gifford

A state judge is expected to decide soon whether there will be a wrongful conviction civil trial for a developmentally disabled Canastota man who spent three years behind bars before his sexual abuse conviction was thrown out in 2007.

The plaintiff, Daniel Lackey, 36, filed the $8 million lawsuit with a state Court of Claims Court in Utica last year. The state Attorney General’s Office previously submitted a motion for dismissal, citing case law that says a wrongful conviction cannot be brought if the defendant aided in his own conviction by giving prosecutors a confession, which Lackey did after his 2003 arrest.

Lackey was convicted of first-degree sexual abuse and sentenced to eight years in state prison. He served three years in the Clinton Correctional Facility before Madison County Court Judge Biagio DiStefano reviewed evidence that the defendant’s accuser may have fabricated some of her testimony in the May 2004 trial. Lackey was released in 2007 and, after the alleged victim indicated that she would not testify again, the Madison County District Attorney’s Office dismissed its charges against Lackey.

Neal Rose, Lackey’s lawyer, said last month that the Attorney General’s argument isn’t valid in this case because Lackey is borderline mentally retarded, and his ability to understand his Miranda rights after the arrest was not brought up during evidence hearings that preceded the criminal trial.

“They never brought up mental handicap during the Huntley Hearing,” which determined whether a confession will be allowed into evidence, Rose said.

Arguments for the claim’s dismissal were made Nov. 9 in a Utica courtroom before Judge Norman Siegel. A decision is expected within 60 days. Rose said at the trial he would be required to again prove Lackey’s innocence as he would at a criminal trial, in addition to claims that Lackey lost income, amassed legal bills and suffered undue pain and suffering due to the unjust conviction.

“It’s not as simple as pointing to the fact that the case was vacated,” Rose said. “Now, the burden is back on Dan.”

In court papers, Rose included a new report from the state Justice Task Force, which is dedicated to studying the cause of wrongful convictions where the defendant was released because they were actually innocent, not because of procedural or legal errors.

Lackey’s accuser had claimed Lackey attacked her in a wooded area in Oneida. More than a year later, she claimed she was raped by a masked man in Pulaski, but later recanted the story and was convicted for falsely reporting an incident. At the hearings before Lackey’s release, she maintained she didn’t fabricate the Oneida rape, though she did admit to having mental problems and abusing prescription drugs. DiStefano later said the lack of evidence against the defendant troubled him, and he apologized for sending Lackey to prison.

In court papers, Assistant Attorney General Joel Marmelstein called the lawsuit “an emotional appeal to provide redress for those who have had their convictions reversed.”

“First, a Huntley hearing on the voluntariness and admissibility of claimant’s confession was held and a determination made,” Marmelstein said. “It is not for this court to ponder what additional arguments could have been made or should have been made or why they were not made.”

The lawsuit, Rose said, arises out of a “perfect storm of factors” that wrongly sent Lackey to prison:

“Mentally ill, self-destructive, drug-addicted complainant,” Rose wrote in court papers. “Police obtaining incriminating uncounseled statements from a mentally handicapped suspect. Police and prosecutors ignoring obvious inconsistencies between the reported crime and objective evidence. Lack of an aggressive defense advocate, and a reluctant judge who declined to invoke his authority to prevent injustice. These are the factors which underlie the claimant’s unjust conviction and imprisonment.”

Aaron Gifford is contributing editor to the Madison County Courier and He can be reached at