In 1987, it took a Suffolk County jury one hour to find Leonard Callace, a sometime cabdriver and construction worker, guilty of sodomizing a teenage girl at knife point in a parked car in Selden.
Monday, after spending nearly six years in prison, Callace was back in court, this time to hear District Attorney James Catterson agree to set aside the conviction.
Catterson said he acted after DNA tests of a semen stain on the victim's jeans showed that Callace, now 38, could not have been the attacker.
Callace walked out of the county jail Monday afternoon and wept as he embraced his father, three brothers and a 15-year-old son he had not seen in five years.
Callace declined an offer to shake hands with Catterson after his court appearance, and Catterson seemed to understand.
"I don't blame him for being bitter," Catterson said. "He should be with the way fate dealt with him, but this shouldn't rub off on the entire criminal-justice system. This is a very rare and unfortunate incident. If we had had DNA testing in this case it might never have gone to trial."
But Callace said he was "railroaded, big time" and now had no faith in the criminal-justice system. "I am owed an apology from the whole county of Suffolk."
Callace said that after his arrest in 1986 he was offered a plea bargain that would have allowed him to serve a four-month sentence in exchange for pleading guilty to a lesser charge.
But Callace insisted on standing trial and was sentenced to 25 years to 50 years in prison. Callace, who had once served a year in jail on a weapons possession charge, was represented by a court-appointed lawyer.
At the trial, the victim, who was 18 years old when she was attacked in 1985, testified Callace was the man who forced her into a car and made her perform sexual acts on him at knife point while a second man sat on the front seat with them.