Leonard Callace (White Plains, New York)
Factual background.In January 1985 a teenage girl was walking to her car in the parking lot of a shopping center. She was accosted by two men at knife point and forced into a nearby car. One man, allegedly Callace, sexually assaulted the victim repeatedly while the other man watched from the front seat. The second man was never identified.
A Suffolk County jury took 1 hour to convict Leonard Callace of sodomy (four counts), sexual abuse (three counts), wrongful imprisonment, and criminal possession of a weapon. Callace rejected a plea bargain that would have given him 4 months in prison if he pled to a lesser charge. On March 24, 1987, Callace was sentenced to 25 to 50 years in prison.
Prosecutor’s evidence at trial. The prosecution based its case on several points:
• A sketch by police artists resembled Callace.
• The victim identified Callace from a photo array and made an in-court
• The blood group of the semen was type A, the same as Callace’s.
• Callace’s alibi was uncorroborated.
Postconviction challenges. Callace’s conviction was affirmed on appeal and leave to appeal to the court of appeals was denied. While in prison, Callace learned about DNA testing and how it was used to free a former inmate (see case summary of Charles Dabbs). He asked his attorney about the original trial evidence.
Callace’s attorney remembered two things from the original trial record. First, the victim had just picked up her jeans from the cleaners. Second, the victim spit out semen onto the jeans after one of the assaults. Therefore, any semen on those jeans would have come from the assailant; if it did not match Callace’s, he could be freed. The defense used this information to secure the jeans from the prosecution for DNA testing at Lifecodes, Inc. On June 27, 1991, a Suffolk County Court judge granted Callace’s motion to consider DNA tests as “new evidence” (573 N.Y.S.2d 137). The judge also ruled that if the samples did not match, he would hold a hearing to consider postconviction relief for Callace.
DNA results. The RFLP analysis performed by Lifecodes, Inc., on the victim’s jeans showed that DNA in the semen stains did not match Callace’s.
Conclusion. On October 5, 1992, Callace was released from prison. The prosecution dismissed all charges against Callace and declined to prosecute in a new trial because of the DNA evidence and the reluctance of the victim to endure another trial. Callace served almost 6 years of his sentence.
This case profile is excerpted from Convicted by Juries, Exonerated by Science: Case Studies in the Use of DNA Evidence to Establish Innocence After Trial, a 1996 research report by the U.S. Department of Justice.