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Is wrong man in prison for rapes? Attica inmate maintains innocence 22 years after arrest in attacks at park

Authorities are investigating the possibility that Altemio C. Sanchez, the suspected Bike Path Killer, is responsible for a string of Delaware Park rapes for which another man was convicted and is now serving time in Attica Correctional Facility.

Detectives went to Attica last month to talk with Anthony J. Capozzi, the man convicted of the Delaware Park rapes. Capozzi, 50, insisted he is innocent, as he has since his arrest Sept. 13, 1985.

He was charged with one rape in 1983 and two in 1984. Jurors found him guilty in the 1984 attacks.

Now his elderly parents are clutching a slim hope that Sanchez will admit he is the man responsible for a series of several attacks in Delaware Park.

One of the biggest pieces of the puzzle that led to Sanchez's arrest Monday was evidence that he was involved in a 1981 Delaware Park rape in which Capozzi had previously been considered a suspect, though he was never charged.

Until now, it was thought that the Bike Path Killer had not committed his first crime until 1986, when a woman was raped in Delaware Park.

"We're hoping that this Sanchez will acknowledge something now, that he will tell the truth and get himself clear with his maker," Capozzi's father, Albert, 81, said Tuesday. "We talked to the district attorney's office this morning because I really want to see the DA and let him know who we are and what we stand for. You know there is no DNA in my son's case."

Erie County District Attorney Frank J. Clark said his staff plans to review the case and pursue possible injustice vigorously.

"We don't have any DNA in those cases, so we're basically left with reviewing the matter. Generally speaking, to see whether anything was done wrong," Clark said.

But Clark also said that it would be "extremely difficult" to overturn such a conviction, which was based on witnesses' identifications of their attacker.

"Now you're going to say your memory is better [nearly] 25 years later?" he asked rhetorically.

Officials of the task force in the Bike Path Killer case said that there is good reason to revisit the Capozzi case:

* Attacks by the Delaware Park rapist and the Bike Path Rapist all occurred in the same area of the park.

* The description of the attacker in both sets of rapes was generally the same.

* Certain gestures and actions conducted by the attacker also were the same.

A police official said the rapist talked to his victims, asking them personal questions "like they were his girlfriend." He would also use tissue in an attempt to "clean" the victims where he would kiss them.

Thomas C. D'Agostino, the lawyer who defended Capozzi, continues to believe that his former client did not commit the rapes. "It warrants another look. I honestly think Anthony was not involved in the crimes he was charged with," D'Agostino said.

During the legal proceedings against Capozzi, the Buffalo defense lawyer said he tried to point out that other sexual attacks against women bore consistencies with attacks Capozzi was accused of committing.

"I tried to put in evidence other rapes that were similar that Anthony had not been charged with and he could not have possibly committed, but the court wouldn't allow it," D'Agostino said. He added that there was never any physical evidence to connect Capozzi to any of the attacks.

The task force official also pointed out that some of the other similar attacks occurred when Capozzi was under arrest.

The three women Capozzi was accused of raping all identified him, though the woman from the 1983 attack had previously identified another man as her assailant.

Also, Albert Capozzi is quick to point out that none of the women ever mentioned a distinctive 3-inch scar his son has above his left eye.

At the time of his 1987 sentencing, Anthony Capozzi, a former psychiatric patient with schizophrenia, told the judge: "I never did these crimes, and I'm innocent."

He still maintains his innocence, says the father, who, with his 75-year-old wife, Mary, visits their son twice a week at Attica.

"Our family is strong and keeping him together. You can't imagine what he goes through. He asks, 'Dad, can I come home?' He's been [behind bars] going on 22 years. He still has mental problems," Albert Capozzi said. "This is driving my wife and me crazy for the money, heartache and the shame that we've faced all these years."

Anthony Capozzi has been denied parole but will be eligible again in March. If he is denied, he could be conditionally released from prison in 2009, according to state prison records.

News Staff Reporter Gene Warner contributed to this report.

e-mail: lmichel@buffnews.com

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