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Capozzi longing to finally return home Freed but not yet free, he looks forward to Easter on West Side

During the Capozzi family reunion Tuesday in Buffalo Psychiatric Center, a nurse walked in to talk with the man of the day: Anthony Capozzi.

The nurse introduced herself, and Capozzi replied:

"Hi, my name is Anthony Capozzi, and I'm in the paper today."

Capozzi understands that he's a free man, but he apparently doesn't comprehend the magnitude of his story to himself or to the community.

"I guess he doesn't realize that people already know his name and his fame," said his younger brother, Albert Capozzi Jr. "He was so excited that he made the paper, he wanted everyone to know it."

After spending almost 22 years in prison for two rapes he didn't commit, Tuesday was a whirlwind day for Anthony Capozzi.

It started with his 5:30 a.m. release from Central New York Psychiatric Center, his hug-filled reunion with his family, his meeting with the detectives who helped free him, a family prayer that he led and a pizza-and-submarine-sandwich dinner with his family, including six nieces and nephews.

Through it all, Anthony Capozzi must have been running on an extra dose of adrenaline. Despite the early wake-up call, he didn't even take a nap in between family gatherings.

"We were in shock at how well he was handling it," said one of his sisters, Pamela Guenther. "He was very composed. He didn't seem frightened or upset. And he was very lucid."

Family members were struck by Anthony's reaction to his room at Buffalo Psychiatric Center, where he's staying while doctors evaluate his condition. He clearly appreciated the relatively spacious living quarters.

"He said that his room looked like a mansion," Guenther recalled. "He kept saying, 'This room is nice.' He's either been in a prison cell or a ward [for 22 years]."

At times, Capozzi seemed impatient about returning to his childhood home on Jersey Street.

"I want to go home," he said. "I want to sleep in my bed. I've done enough time."

"Anthony didn't understand," Albert said. "He thought he was free, yet he was at another facility. He thought if he was free, he got to go home."

That, apparently, isn't going to happen until Easter Sunday, when the family will gather for dinner in the Jersey Street homestead where his parents still live.

The reunion began at about 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, when the immediate family -- Capozzi's parents, Albert and Mary, and his four siblings, Sharyn Miller, Kathleen Jeras, Guenther and Albert Jr. -- gathered inside a first-floor conference room in the center's Strozzi Building.

There were a few false alarms, then the door opened.

"All of a sudden, somebody walked in and said, 'There's someone who wants to see you all,' " his brother said. "Sure enough, it was Anthony."

He wore a new outfit, a new pair of shoes and looked sharp, family members said.

"The first instant I saw him, it was like I was so excited and nervous and staring at his face to see how he looked and how he felt," Albert Jr. said.

There apparently weren't many words exchanged, and Guenther said that those first few minutes remain a blur to her.

"My parents had gotten up," she remembered. "They were hugging him and greeting him. Everybody waited in line to give their love to him."

After the hugs and greetings, Anthony Capozzi posed a couple of questions.

"Are we ready?" he asked. "Are we going home?"

Family members persuaded him to open the gifts they had bought him, including a wallet and his-and-hers watch set that Guenther and Mary Capozzi had bought in New York City. He opened that present first and quickly said, "I'll take the man's watch."

During the morning, four Bike Path Rapist Task Force detectives -- Buffalo Detectives Dennis A. Delano and Lissa M. Redmond, Sheriff's Detective Alan N. Rozansky and State Police Investigator Josh P. Keats -- went to the hospital to greet Capozzi.

Family members explained that the detectives were the ones who had believed in his innocence and were largely responsible for his being a free man.

"Thank you very much," Capozzi said.

Then he looked at Delano.

"We kind of look alike," Capozzi said.

Delano chuckled.

Capozzi's longtime attorney, Thomas C. D'Agostino, also joined in the homecoming celebration, confiding to family members that Capozzi probably wouldn't recognize him after all these years.

"Hey, Tom," Capozzi immediately said.

D'Agostino gave him a big hug.

"I'm so happy for you, Anthony," he said.

In between the morning reunion and the family dinner, Guenther, her parents and D'Agostino went to Pano's Restaurant on Elmwood Avenue.

"People were all whispering, 'There's the Capozzi family,' Guenther said. "People came up and said, 'We want to congratulate you. God bless you.' "

At the late-afternoon dinner at the Psychiatric Center, the Capozzis dined on a sheet pizza, eight large Wegmans subs and sister Sharyn Miller's homemade brownies. The family asked Capozzi what kind of sub sandwich he wanted, and he picked assorted.

"Don't worry, Anthony, I know what you like," sister Kathleen Jeras said.

Before the food arrived, Anthony led his family in four prayers as they all held hands.

"Here's this guy who's been in prison, not bitter at all, thinking about God and his faith," Guenther said.

The two siblings were asked their favorite moments of the day.

"Seeing my mom and dad having this moment that settled their hearts, that was the highlight for me," Guenther replied. "I'm a mother, and I can't imagine having a son dealing with this and not being able to do anything about it."

For the younger brother, the highlight was having the whole family together for dinner, laughing and having fun, like the old days.

"It was almost like the family reunion we've never had," Albert Jr. said.

By all accounts, Anthony Capozzi is taking things one day -- even one minute -- at a time, not thinking too much about the future.

But his loved ones can't wait for Easter Sunday dinner, back at the family home on Jersey Street.

"I think that's going to be the most exciting and emotional part of this whole process," Albert Jr. said.

e-mail: gwarner@buffnews.com

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