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Capozzi gets huge dose of culture shock

It is 1985. People listen to music on phonograph albums.

Telephones are connected to walls by wires.

TVs are boxes with curved screens. When you want to change the channel, you get up and walk over to the set.

The impact of the personal computer on everyday life is barely evident. The only surfing folks do is on ocean waves -- not at a keyboard via the Internet.

It is 1985. It is the last year Anthony Capozzi was a free man.

A lot has changed since then.

Capozzi was freed this week after 22 years in prison. An intelligent man who suffers from schizophrenia, he was wrongfully convicted of two rapes in and near Delaware Park. In the last six months, investigators in the case of the Bike Path Killer and rapist found evidence of Capozzi's innocence. The recent discovery of long-forgotten DNA evidence slides from Capozzi's case confirmed their belief -- and tied the crimes to Altemio Sanchez, the alleged Bike Path Killer.

A prison is not a time capsule. The return to the outside world of the 50-year-old, childlike man is not exactly a Rip Van Winkle awakening. But prison is a cocoon. Capozzi's adjustment to freedom includes a massive dose of culture shock.

He held a cell phone Tuesday for the first time. He had never seen one before. His brother, Albert Jr., handed the phone to Anthony. He showed him the pictures on the screen. When a call came in, Anthony spoke to the person at the other end. There were no cords or wires. It seemed like a miracle.

"Anthony was astounded by it," Albert Capozzi said of his son's reaction. "He kept looking at it. In prison, you have to go through the switchboard. The phone had a wire on it."

Capozzi missed the CD revolution, itself now being overthrown by the iPod. Imagine, hundreds of songs stored in a device the size of a cigarette lighter.

"He had never seen [an iPod], either," said Albert Capozzi, sitting Thursday morning in the kitchen of the family's immaculate West Side home. "That's another thing my [other] son showed him."

Cable TV in 1985 was a few dozen channels. PlayStation was not yet invented. Duran Duran ruled the airwaves. Grunge had yet to come -- and go.

Technology and pop music are not all that have changed. Buffalo's landscape is not the same, either.

"Anthony wants to see the Aud," said his father. "He doesn't know about [HSBC Arena]."

Anthony's brother, on request, drove him along Elmwood Avenue. Anthony asked for a beer -- his first in 22 years.

Family members and detectives from the Bike Path Rapist Task Force gathered Tuesday with Capozzi at Buffalo Psychiatric Center, where he has been spending a few transitional days. Capozzi immediately picked up on a happy consequence of the women's rights movement. Meeting Buffalo Police Detective Lissa Redmond, Capozzi cracked: "They didn't build police officers like this when I was out there."

Family members say Capozzi's sudden re-entry into freedom has been smooth. He is relaxed, friendly and cracks jokes.

"His mind is coming right back," said Capozzi's father, Albert.

But Capozzi's mental illness complicates the adjustments to come.

"He has hallucinations," Albert Capozzi said. "He is afraid that someone is going to come and take his blood."

Fortunately, he has the same remedy that helped him through the last 22 years: a family that never forgot him, that never stopped loving him.

"Every day," Albert Capozzi said, "when I or somebody from the family is with him, we help him."

It will help if they can keep in touch. I see a cell phone in Anthony Capozzi's future.

e-mail: desmonde@buffnews.com

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