Gretna man freed after serving 38 years for 1979 rape

Gretna man freed after serving 38 years for 1979 rape

GRETNA, LA (WVUE) - A Gretna man who has been serving nearly 38 years for a rape charge has been exonerated by DNA evidence.

According to a news release issued by the Innocence Project, Malcolm Alexander has always maintained his innocence of the November 8, 1979, rape of the owner of a new antique store on Whitney Avenue in Gretna.

The victim, who was white, was grabbed from behind in the empty store by a black man and taken to a small, dark, private bathroom in the back of the store where she was raped from behind with a gun to her head, according to the release.

In February 1980, Alexander, who is black, had a consensual encounter with a white woman who asked him for money and then later accused him of sexual assault.

This encounter, which was uncorroborated and later dropped by the police, prompted police to place Alexander's photo in a photo array that was shown to the victim over four months after she was attacked at gunpoint by a complete stranger, according to the report.

The report goes on to say that the assailant was behind the victim for the entirety of the crime, and her opportunity to view him was extremely limited.  According to police reports, the victim "tentatively" selected Alexander's photo.

A review of the trial by the Innoncence Project revealed that Alexander's attorney failed to make court appearances and to file important pleadings, including a motion challenging the identification.

A review of the one-day trial transcript reveals that the attorney, who was subsequently disbarred, failed to make an opening statement, did not call any witnesses for the defense, failed to adequately cross-examine the state's witnesses about the identification and presented a closing argument that was a mere four pages of the 87-page transcript, according to the report.

The report said Alexander received a life sentence for the guilty verdict.  Although the attorney promised to file an appeal of the verdict, he never filed it.

The Innocence Project first took up Alexander's case in 1996 but quickly learned that the rape kit and a semen-stained towel had been destroyed only four years after his conviction.

In 2013, hair evidence recovered from the location where the rape took place was found at the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office Crime Lab.  According to the report, three crime scene hairs had the same DNA profile that did not match to Alexander or the victim.

This new evidence led the  Jefferson Parish District Attorney's office to vacate Alexander's conviction and dismiss the indictment in court Tuesday.

"We are grateful to Jefferson Parish District Attorney Paul Connick for working with the Innocence Project and for the cooperation of the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office in correcting this grave injustice," said Barry Scheck, co-director of the Innocence Project.

Alexander was reunited with his family in Gretna Tuesday afternoon.