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Man cleared after woman says rape claim was lie

January 19, 2010 10:40:29 AM PST
A man who spent four years in prison for a rape he didn't commit is finally cleared. A judge on Thursday vacated the rape conviction against William McCaffrey because his accuser recanted. The judge who presided over the case also apologized to McCaffrey, saying a wrongful conviction is catastrophic to the criminal justice system.

Imagine being falsely accused of rape and going to prison based on the story of the alleged victim. How would you feel if she then stepped forward to say she lied, and you ended up being punished in the process? That's just what we asked William McCaffrey, who is now officially innocent.

Eyewitness News reporter Sarah Wallace: "You're not forgiving her?"
McCaffrey: "I did hard time, very hard time. I don't forgive her, but I understand."

McCaffrey understandably has mixed feelings about 27-year-old Biurny Peguero-Gonzalez. It was her claim of forcible rape that put him in prison in 2006 for 20 years, but it's also her admission she lied earlier this year that led to the 32-year-old construction worker being officially exonerated on Thursday.

Wallace: "The worst part of prison?"
McCaffrey: "Being a rapist, every day worried about your safety. Every day was like a battlefield."
Wallace: "Right, because in prison a rapist is the lowest of the low."
McCaffrey: "The worst."

The two met during a night of drinking in September of 2005 in the Inwood section of Manhattan. She would later tell her girlfriends that McCaffrey had raped her. There was no physical evidence of rape and the DNA from a bite mark on her shoulder was insufficient to test. McCaffrey was convicted largely on her word, alone.

"I think she was locked into the lie. They repeat the lie and now it's very embarrassing to back down," said the attorney for Gonzalez, Paul Callan.

But finally she did back down, confessing to a Catholic priest earlier this year, and then to the Manhattan District Attorney's office. By that time, new, more sophisticated DNA testing became available. Retesting showed the bite mark on Gonzalez' shoulder could not have come from a man and she admitted she'd gotten into a physical fight with one of her girlfriends. The Manhattan District Attorney's office threatened her with perjury charges.

Wallace: "Did the prosecution put up roadblocks?"
Garber: "They put up resistance. I think it's very difficult for them to admit a mistake."

Attorney Glenn Garber heads the newly formed non-profit Exoneration Initiative focusing on non-DNA cases. Without Gonzalez' recantation, McCaffrey, who served four years, would still be in prison, and now she may go, pleading guilty to perjury.

Wallace: "Do you think she should go to prison?"
McCaffrey: "That's difficult because I've been there it's terrible. I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy, but I think she did something wrong. She told a terrible lie, so we will just have to see what happens. I guess I am putting my faith back in the justice system."

Gonzalez could get up to seven years in prison when she is sentenced in February, but she could also get probation. William McCaffrey is planning to go to school to become a paralegal and then donate his time to the Exoneration Initiative.

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