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A mission to uncover the truth

The truth became obvious. The concern became a cause.

His job was to find the notorious Bike Path Rapist/Killer. Along the way to the recent arrest of Altemio Sanchez, Detective Dennis Delano may have found something else: a victim no one looked for. He found a man imprisoned for the past 21 years who may be paying for the Bike Path Rapist's crimes.

Delano is a Buffalo homicide cop, a rumpled bear of a man with a "before" body and a soft heart beneath a thick crust. His theory that the Bike Path rapist struck earlier than previously believed -- 1981, not 1986 -- led to clues that police say cracked the case. But in pursuit of justice, Delano believes he found an injustice.

A West Side man named Anthony Capozzi was charged in 1985 with three sexual assaults, in or near Delaware Park. He was convicted, without DNA evidence, of two rapes and has since been in prison.

Delano doesn't think the rapist was Capozzi, who has a history of mental problems. Delano believes -- based on numerous similarities to the Bike Path Rapist's methods -- that the attacks were the early work of Altemio Sanchez.

Delano, a cop for 28 years, said, "I would bet my career on it."

It is a familiar story that never gets old: Wrong man convicted, justice undone. Delano does what he does not just to put a particular person away. He does it to uncover the truth -- even if it leads to mistakes made, to a man wronged, to a system that failed.

"As far as I'm concerned, Capozzi is Sanchez's [other] victim," Delano said on a recent morning. "For a change, it is a victim it is in our power to help."

Delano got into police work because he cares about people. On his office wall are police sketches of the Bike Path Rapist and photos of his victims. He takes paperwork home at night. He draws charts listing details of crimes, hoping to find a hidden connection. He talks not just about physical injuries of the rapist's victims, but the years of emotional pain. He thinks about the friendships and love affairs that -- maybe -- did not happen for a woman because of unseen wounds inflicted by a monster.

Lately, he thinks about Capozzi.

"It breaks my heart that he has been in jail these 20-odd years," Delano said.

A 1986 Delaware Park attack near the statue of David was thought to be the Bike Path Rapist's first. Work by Delano and the Bike Path task force recently linked Sanchez to a 1981 rape in the same place. There were two other sexual assaults in the park between 1981 and 1986, both charged to Capozzi. But the site -- near the statue -- the descriptions of the attacker, the commands he used and a handful of other clues scream: Bike Path Rapist. Not Capozzi.

"This kid Capozzi does not deserve to stay one more day in [Attica]," Delano said.

Sadly, the cases are old. Much of the evidence was destroyed or lost. Delano will keep looking.

"If I can just find one Q-Tip swab [of evidence]," he said, "that would seal it."

Capozzi's family hopes the convictions will be overturned, or the Bike Path Rapist admits to the crimes.

Sanchez denies he is the Bike Path Killer/Rapist. District Attorney Frank Clark said it is tough to erase convictions without new evidence. Even so, Clark -- in the name of justice -- ought to take a long, hard look at the Capozzi case.

Capozzi is up for parole in two months. Parole would set him free, but not clear his name.

We can't give Capozzi back 21 years. At least we can give him back his reputation. His mother and father suffered for two decades, never believing their son did these horrible things.

There is a good chance they are right. Delano believes them. Delano believes in justice.

e-mail: desmonde@buffnews.com

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