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Another voice / Cost of injustice Lawmakers should lead effort to compensate Capozzi

As one who knew something of the case involving Anthony Capozzi, I would like to commend The Buffalo News for the outstanding coverage afforded what we now know was a gross miscarriage of justice in the arrest, conviction and 35-year sentence meted out to Capozzi in 1984. Starting with the arrest of Altemio Sanchez in January, The News did yeoman's work in keeping attention focused on the case against Capozzi and certainly raised many questions about the case made against him.

While it is not my intent to lay blame anywhere at this time, it is now clear to all that a vulnerable, psychiatrically disturbed young person was manhandled by the justice system and forced to spend 22 years of his life in the state prison system. Among the things we know about prison is that persons with a serious mental illness will never receive the level of treatment they desperately need, and they are extraordinarily vulnerable during their incarceration to the misdeeds of those who would take advantage of their disability.

Many individuals are entitled to be recognized in this case, notably Buffalo Police Detective Dennis Delano whose review of the record convinced him that Capozzi was innocent even before the DNA evidence was found; his attorney Thomas D'Agostino; and, of course, his family who never quit believing that he was innocent and courageously stood by Anthony all this time, ever believing that justice was possible.

What disappoints me to no end, however, is the lack of outrage and outcry from our state representatives. Where are their voices condemning this injustice and calling for compensation for Capozzi's loss of 22 years?

While some news articles have cited the fact that Capozzi has a right to file a wrongful conviction lawsuit and to seek redress through that means, such suits usually take considerable time, are costly, and do not necessarily lead to a satisfactory settlement. Secondly, why should the victim be the one who has to take the initiative to "right a wrong" imposed upon him so egregiously?

Certainly, Capozzi is not the first defendant wrongly convicted and sentenced. But given a second look at the totality of the circumstances, why does someone not call for "Anthony's Law" which would provide compensation for a person who is the victim of a miscarriage of justice and who deserves to be provided with some form of compensation by the state?

While no sum of money can make up for the loss of 22 years of a young life, it would seem to me that the state has an obligation to take the initiative and assume the responsibility to compensate such defendants and do all it can to "make the person whole" within some meaning of the term.

If other cases have not prodded our elected officials to consider such a step, let the Anthony Capozzi saga be the event to lead to such a law.

Robert K. Corliss is an associate director for Criminal Justice for the National Alliance on Mental Illness of New York State.

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