TAMPA – Alan Crotzer spent 24 years, six months and 13 days in prison waiting for a judge to set him free on robbery and rape convictions.
Six words from Judge J. Rogers Padgett on Monday ended Crotzer’s incomparable suffering.
“Motion granted, you’re a free man,” Padgett said after a Hillsborough prosecutor recommended the case be vacated in light of new DNA evidence and witness disclosures.
Padgett’s words summoned tears from years of frustration, struggle and pain for Crotzer, his family and legal team present in courtroom 24.
“Thank you Jesus. Thank you lord,“ Crotzer’s sister Wanda Sanders cried out as bailiffs began removing Crotzer’s wrist and leg shackles.
Crotzer’s legal team started looking into the case in 2002, 10 years after his conviction on charges he and two accomplices robbed two couples and a daughter before two of the women were raped.
“We weren’t exactly a legal dream team,” said Sam Roberts, a third year student at Fordham Law School who was volunteering at the New York Innocence Project when Crotzer’s letter landed on his desk.
Roberts and the David Menschel, a Project attorney, discovered there was DNA evidence that had not been destroyed. Both of Crotzer’s co-defendants also gave statements that they didn’t even know Crotzer and he was not their accomplice.
A recent DNA test confirmed that Crotzer, 45, was innocent. Roberts and Menschel say they also discovered that initially four of the five witnesses didn’t pick Crotzer out in photo displays of the suspects.
Crotzer’s legal team say they know the identity of the man who investigators mistook as Crotzer, but prosecutors in the case said Monday the statute of limitations has long run out on the case.
“We are not attempting to pursue any other suspects in this case at this time,” said Assistant State Attorney Michael Sinacore.
After his release, Crotzer said he endured his ordeal through the love of his family and supporters and a need to prove he was innocent.
“I always had hope ‘ he said later at a press conference. He wanted to prove to the people who assumed he was guilty that he “wasn’t the monster they said I was.“
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