After 47 years, a New York man has been exonerated after new DNA testing conclusively excluded him as the perpetrator of a 1975 rape.
This is the longest known wrongful conviction in US history to be overturned by DNA evidence.
The true perpetrator, a convicted sex offender, has confessed to the rape.
Leonard Mack, 72, spent over seven years in prison after being convicted in 1976 for the crime he did not commit.
Mr Mack said: “I never lost hope that one day that I would be proven innocent.”
In May 1975, two teenage girls were walking home from school in the predominately white town of Greenburgh, New York when a man stopped them and held them at gun point.
One of the girls was raped twice while the other managed to escape and run for help.
The Greenburgh Police Department issued a dispatch for officers to be on the lookout for a black male in his early 20s.
Shortly after the attack, police stopped Mr Mack, who happened to be driving through the neighbourhood.
Though Mr Mack had a strong alibi and was wearing different clothes than the suspect, police still arrested him.
The Westchester County District Attorney’s Conviction Review Unit, along with the Innocence Project – a nonprofit committed to exonerating wrongfully convicted individuals – conducted new DNA testing in the rape case in 2022.
It revealed the actual perpetrator was a man who had been convicted of a burglary and rape in Queens that occurred weeks after this crime.
The man had also been convicted in 2004 for burglary and sexual assault of a woman in Westchester County.
“This exoneration confirms that wrongful convictions are not only harmful to the wrongly convicted but also make us all less safe,” district attorney Miriam E Rocah said in a statement.
Ms Rocah praised Mr Mack’s “unwavering strength” for fighting to clear his name for almost 50 years.
Witness misidentification is the leading cause of wrongful convictions, according to the Innocence Project. In this case, the girls identified Mr Mack during a flawed police identification process.
The organisation also cited racial bias and tunnel vision as factors in Mr Mack’s case.
Mr Mack, who is a Vietnam War veteran, has been living in South Carolina with his wife of nearly 21 years.
“Now the truth has come to light and I can finally breathe. I am finally free,” he said.