LOWER MANHATTAN — They were convicted of a knifepoint kidnapping and brutal rape 27 years ago, but it never happened.
It was only on Monday that VanDyke Perry, 48, and Gregory Counts, 46, were officially declared innocent of the trumped up crimes that dogged them both for more than a quarter century, and which kept them behind bars for a total of 39 years between them.
“It kept going on,” said Counts in court on Monday afternoon. “It was like a locomotive train that kept going full throttle.”
As his co-defendant, Perry, said at the hearing to vacate their convictions on Monday, “I’ve got a lot to talk about. Almost 30 years to talk about,” he said, when the judge invited the two men to speak on the record.
They both indicated that the hearing to vacate was the first time since 1991 in which they’d been in court and gotten justice.
Cy Vance, the Manhattan District Attorney, elaborated.
“These two men,” Vance said on the record, before the judge, “were convicted of kidnapping, rape and sodomy because of the testimony of a complainant who recanted her testimony just two weeks ago.”
Vance spoke about the case on which his office worked with The Innocence Project. Its founder, Barry Scheck, was in court, and handled the case personally, along with Innocence Project attorney Seema Saifee.
In the case in which they’d been convicted, a woman in Harlem accused the two men of kidnapping her at gunpoint, and then violently raping her, while they drove around the neighborhood and Central Park in a car.
Despite prosecutors producing a semen sample which did not match the DNA of either Perry or Counts, and despite a rape kit in the case that did not show sexual trauma to the accuser, as well as firm alibis from the two men, and inconsistent testimony from the woman, and the fact that the car in which the alleged sex crime took place was inoperable at the time, the men were convicted by a jury.
The conviction was almost entirely based on the woman’s testimony. She recently confessed that at the time, she was trying to protect her boyfriend from conviction. He had been in a fight with Perry and Counts sometime before the false rape story, and had shot Perry.
The dispute was apparently over drugs, and Perry was not seriously injured.
He ended up serving a dozen years in jail and prison, and left custody in 2003. Counts was released last August on probation, having served nearly 27 years behind bars.
“During that time,” Counts said in court, “I was fighting for my life. I was scared. I didn’t know what was going on.”
He was 19 when he’d been arrested. Perry was 21.
After serving his sentence, Perry moved to the Pacific Northwest with his wife and children to try and start a new life. He’d arrived in Oregon in his car, with no prospects for work.
“I was living in my car with my wife and kids,” Perry said in his statement before the judge, who officially vacated his and Counts’s convictions, at last.
The two exited the courtroom to applause.
Now, the two men with records that are wiped clean from a crime they didn’t commit say they’ll try to live as normal lives as possible.
“I can’t live off hate,” Counts said outside of the courtroom. “I’d rather be 10 minutes happy than ten minutes angry.”
Perry also showed no hostility, but did say that he felt betrayed by his former hometown.
“I’m not staying in New York no more,” said the man who now lives in Vancouver, Washington, on the border with Oregon. “They railroaded me for a crime I did not do.”
Both men indicated that they’ll seek restitution for the wrongs done to them.
Their accuser, District Attorney Vance said, cannot be prosecuted for the false complaint, because the statute of limitations for doing so has expired.