A 60-year-old man imprisoned for 17 years for the 1982 rape of a Buffalo woman walked out of Green Haven Correctional Facility in Stormville Wednesday after being cleared by a DNA test.
Vincent H. Jenkins, also known by the Muslim name of Warith Habib Abdal, said he had shut away his feelings so long, he was unable to describe how it felt to be released from prison.
"It's hard to tell after being locked up for 17 years and not having any feelings," said Jenkins. "It's hard to tell what grew around my heart and what I'm feeling."
He was convicted of robbing and raping a 23-year-old woman who was attacked during a bird-watching trip in a Buffalo nature preserve in September 1982. He was sentenced to 12 1/2 to 25 years in prison.
His lawyer claimed improper police tactics prompted the victim to make an identification of Jenkins months after the rape, even though she was not initially able to identify him.
U.S. District Judge John T. Elfvin ruled Tuesday in Buffalo that Jenkins was wrongly convicted of the rape. He was freed Wednesday afternoon from the maximum-security prison, about 50 miles north of New York City.
Barry Scheck helped handle Jenkins' case as co-director of the Innocence Project at the Cardozo School of Law in New York. Jenkins is the 61st inmate in the United States to be exonerated by DNA testing and the 36th since 1996, he said.
"The pace of exonerations with DNA are only accelerating in the last few years," Scheck said. Jenkins said he wasn't the only innocent person in prison, and the penal system wasn't about justice.
"I have to say, it's all about money," he said. "If you're broke, you will stay in the penitentiary."
While in prison, Jenkins contracted lung cancer that is now in remission, Scheck said.
Jenkins' lawyer, Eleanor Jackson Piel, had described him Tuesday as "a very truculent man in prison, an angry man. Maybe that anger is what helped him to get through all these years."
DNA evidence testing that was completed in April showed virtually beyond any doubt that Jenkins was not the rapist. The DNA technology used to clear the New York City native was not available when he was charged.