Wrongly convicted sees rapist sentenced

Man lost 12 years in jail in ’91 crime

Anthony Powell went to prison for a rape he did not commit. He was freed based on DNA tests. Anthony Powell went to prison for a rape he did not commit. He was freed based on DNA tests. (Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe)
By Brian R. Ballou
Globe Staff / July 29, 2011

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During his 12 years behind bars on rape charges, Anthony Powell staunchly maintained his innocence. Eventually, DNA forensics, which had come of age, showed that he was telling the truth, and he was freed.

Yesterday, Powell sat in a Suffolk County courtroom as another man, Jerry Dixon, admitted in a low, gruff voice that he committed the brutal 1991 rape in question and two other, similar rapes months apart.

Powell remained expressionless throughout the proceedings and glanced only briefly at Dixon, about 30 feet away. After Dixon, 38, of Dorchester, pleaded guilty and was led out of the courtroom to begin serving a 30-year sentence, Powell, 40 and now living in New York state, declined to talk with reporters.

But Howard Friedman, the Boston-based attorney who represented Powell in a federal civil rights claim stemming from his wrongful conviction, said Powell remains upset that he has not received an apology from Judge Robert A. Mulligan, who presided over the case and is now the Superior Court’s chief justice for administration and management.

“He felt that the judge was totally hostile towards him during the trial,’’ Friedman said.

Powell settled out of court with the state and in the federal civil suit; the terms have not been disclosed.

Powell’s conviction in 1992 had come after the 18-year-old rape victim said she was positive that Powell was the man who raped her. Her error was not discovered until prosecutors agreed to have Powell’s DNA checked against the preserved DNA from her attacker.

“Nothing can return those years to him,’’ said Daniel F. Conley, Suffolk district attorney. “No amount of compensation that he may have received is going to make this right.’’

Powell was released from prison in 2004, eight years shy of the full term of his sentence.

Although Conley was not district attorney when Powell was prosecuted, he said he apologized to Powell yesterday on behalf of a system that had failed him.

“Bear in mind this is a system of human beings and this was a case of eyewitness evidence that the victim . . . the defense attorney pointed out that in her testimony in court, identified Mr. Powell with 100 percent certainty,’’ Conley said. “Well, we obviously know that that’s not true today.’’

The later indictment of Dixon - in the 1991 rape in Roxbury and in two others - marks the first time in the Commonwealth an indictment has been issued based solely on a DNA profile. Prosecutors say similar cases are in the pipeline.

The story of his arrest in the 1991 rape reflects the steady evolution of DNA forensics.

Because the 15-year statute of limitations was approaching in the case, Conley moved in 2006 to secure indictments by identifying the suspect only as John Doe, putting a generic name on evidence preserved from two 1991 rapes, one on Townsend Street in Roxbury and one on Amory Street in Jamaica Plain.

Last year, the Supreme Judicial Court upheld the propriety of those nameless indictments. Prosecutors were later able to prove that Dixon left the state and lived in New Hampshire for seven years, suspending the statute of limitations.

In 2007, Dixon was convicted of several motor vehicle offenses and served a nine-month jail term. Before his release, authorities discovered that he was required to retroactively submit a DNA sample because of an unrelated armed robbery offense dating back to 1991, a case that Conley had prosecuted as an assistant district attorney.

When the sample was entered into the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System, or CODIS, his profile matched the stored DNA profiles from the two rapes. The system automatically checks newly submitted samples against the database, including cases considered solved.

“The case speaks volumes about the power of science and DNA evidence to work here and fight evil,’’ said Leora Joseph, assistant district attorney, addressing Judge Carol Ball yesterday. As prosecutors built the case against Dixon, all three victims testified before a grand jury, which issued the indictments.

A bill is currently being considered in the Legislature that would require preservation of DNA evidence and give convicts easier access to DNA testing that could prove their innocence.

Dixon was arraigned on July 17, 2008, and has spent more than 1,000 days in jail awaiting trial, and recently, after meetings of his attorney, Veronica White; prosecutors; and Superior Court Judge Carol Ball, the defendant decided to enter a guilty plea rather than go to trial.

Dixon admitted to 10 counts of aggravated rape.

On March 20, 1991, Dixon crossed paths with an 18-year-old Roxbury woman, on her way to visit a friend. He pulled her, at knifepoint, into a wooded area near 30 Townsend St., where he sexually assaulted her for two hours, prosecutors say.

Before he left, Dixon demanded that she come to a nearby skating rink the next night with $100. She alerted authorities who staked out the rink. Powell happened to be walking in the area, and the woman identified him as her assailant.

On April 24, 1991, Dixon struck again, authorities said. Police, alerted by a 911 call to the rear of the Academy Homes Housing Development in Roxbury, came upon him sexually assaulting a 33-year-old woman. Dixon was arrested, but the victim declined to prosecute and the case was dismissed.

Then, on July 13, 1991, Dixon walked up to a 24-year-old art student from Medford, trying to find an art studio in Jamaica Plain. Dixon, who was 18 at the time and lived in Jamaica Plain, told her he knew where the studio was and would take her there. But he led her to the rear of 51 Armory St. and attacked her, again at knifepoint.

The three victims were not present yesterday, but two of them wrote impact statements that were read by Joseph.

The Amory Street victim, identified in court only by the initials E.F., said of the sexual assault, “It was a week before my birthday, and it is an event that I will never forget. I can’t say that it has devastated my life, since it was 20 years ago and I have made great efforts to recover and get on with my life.’’

But the victim said she moved from Boston because of the attack and would never move back.

White, Dixon’s attorney, said yesterday that her client grew up in a household with alcoholic parents and that his mother’s drinking while pregnant may be linked to his suffering episodes of blackouts throughout his life. She said Dixon is the father of two children and that he married in 2004, but that union quickly ended in divorce.

“In 1991 he was out of control,’’ White said. “He indicated he blacked out during those events. He said he specifically doesn’t have any memory of those rapes.’’

Brian R. Ballou can be reached at Follow him on Twitter at @globeballou.