Associated Press

DNA Clears Michael Mercer, Imprisoned 11 Years for Rape

By Samuel Maull, Associated Press,

NEW YORK (AP) A man convicted 11 years ago when a teenage girl identified him as her rapist left court a free man Monday after a judge was told DNA tests showed he had not committed the crime. '

'It feels good,'' said Michael Mercer, 53, who was freed at the request of the Manhattan district attorney's office. State Supreme Court Justice Leslie Crocker, in granting the motion to end Mercer's time behind bars, said: ''Obviously a terrible mistake was made.''

District Attorney Robert Morgenthau said improved DNA testing showed that the victim, despite her insistent identification of Mercer, was raped by a repeat felon serving two life prison terms. Morgenthau said his office was notified last Wednesday of the DNA match to Arthur Brown. The victim, now in her late 20s, was then shown an array of photos that included Mercer and Brown. She identified Brown as the rapist. Brown cannot be charged with rape because the statute of limitations has run out, Morgenthau said.

Mercer had been sentenced to 20½ to 41 years. He said that when he left prison Monday he believed he was headed to court to argue one of the many motions he filed over the years protesting his innocence. He said his lawyer told him only about 30 minutes before he appeared in court that he was being released. Mercer was found guilty in 1991 of accosting the 17-year-old in the elevator of a Manhattan building, forcing her to the roof, and robbing and raping her. He was arrested about two months after the attack when the victim, after staying with relatives, returned to the building and saw a man she identified as her assailant.

After telling her mother and calling police, she went outside and yelled to passers-by, ''Stop him! Stop him!'' A crowd caught Mercer, beat him and held him for police. The identification of Brown as the rapist stems from a DNA project begun in New York two years ago. At that time, police and other authorities began testing or retesting evidence in 17,000 sex crimes cases. Morgenthau said the kind of mistake that sent Mercer to prison is less likely to happen now because of improved DNA methods.

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