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Man jailed nearly 7 years for '84 rape is exonerated

It took 26 years for Douglas Pacyon to clear his name after being convicted of a 1984 rape and serving almost seven years in prison for an attack he didn't commit.

And then it took all of three minutes Monday afternoon for the criminal-justice system to officially exonerate him.

Pacyon shook hands with Erie County District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III moments after County Judge Michael F. Pietruszka formally dismissed his rape conviction based on DNA testing that proved he couldn't have committed the May 1984 crime.

Pacyon, now 54, of Cheektowaga, served six years, eight months in prison on a wrongful first-degree rape conviction before being released in 1990.

Speaking on behalf of the District Attorney's Office, Sedita faced Pacyon in the courtroom and said, "You're owed an apology, and we apologize to you."

"I greatly appreciate it," Pacyon replied, speaking in a barely audible voice.

Outside the courtroom, Pacyon battled with his emotions as he stood before all the microphones and cameras.

"I just want to say it's been a long time for justice to come," the soft-spoken Pacyon said. Then he expressed his appreciation to the District Attorney's Office, defense attorney Thomas C. D'Agostino and his friends and family before discussing the lesson to be learned from his ordeal.

"As long as you keep the faith and never give up, it hopefully can change for the better," he said. "I had faith that someday, this day would happen."

Pacyon was accused of raping two women in Cheektowaga four days apart in May 1984. During his 1985 trial, he was acquitted in the first incident but convicted of rape and weapons charges in the second incident.

In May 2008, 18 years after Pacyon was released from prison, D'Agostino filed a motion seeking forensic DNA testing on various evidence from the case.

The following January, the Erie County Central Police Services forensic lab, under the direction of John P. Simich, found that Pacyon was excluded as the person supplying the genetic material in the rape kit of the second victim -- the one he was convicted of raping.

Prosecutor Donna A. Milling then spearheaded the investigation and was able to locate sexual-assault pathology slides stored in Erie County Medical Center, supervised by Dr. James J. Woytash, a medical examiner.

Exhaustive testing and retesting of those slides showed that both women had been sexually assaulted by the same man.

And that man was not Douglas Pacyon.

Those definitive test results were sent to the District Attorney's Office last Tuesday. Sedita sent the court an affidavit Thursday to dismiss the indictment. The matter then was resolved in three minutes in Pietruszka's courtroom, with Sedita submitting the motion.

"I think it's an important enough public issue that I think the district attorney should be in court to explain what happened," Sedita said, citing the public confidence in the judicial system.

After the two rapes, Pacyon was arrested based partly on leads generated by a widely distributed composite sketch of the attacker in both cases.

During his trial in April 1985, Pacyon insisted he was innocent and told the jury he was home asleep at the time of the first attack and at a friend's home during the second.

The jury didn't completely believe him, acquitting him of raping a 26-year-old woman outside her home in the French Road area of Cheektowaga on May 26, 1984, but convicting him of attacking a 21-year-old woman four days later on Genesee Street.

Earlier Monday, during a brief telephone interview, Pacyon pointed out that he was convicted in the one case based on circumstantial evidence and the testimony of one woman who positively identified him.

"There was never a doubt in my mind," he said of his innocence. "From Day One, I requested any kind of test that would exonerate me, and nothing was done."

Pacyon also praised the other female victim, who expressed doubts about her attacker's identity, he said.

"I'm grateful that she was an honest person," he said. "I'm hopeful she gets justice and finds out who victimized her."

Authorities don't know who raped the two women. All they know is the person's DNA. And Sedita explained that even if the attacker were identified through a DNA match, the statute of limitations would prevent his being prosecuted.

"The citizens of this community need to know that the District Attorney's Office considers exonerating an innocent person as important as [convicting] a guilty one," Sedita told reporters.

D'Agostino, whom Pacyon approached in October 2007 after having being repeatedly turned down by other lawyers in his quest to clear his name, said some civil action is likely over all the time Pacyon spent behind bars in the state's Collins Correctional Facility.

Outside the courtroom, D'Agostino explained why he took Pacyon's case.

"Truthfully, I sat down and talked to him, and his story made sense to me," the attorney said. "His conviction didn't make sense to me."

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