Brandeis’ Schuster Institute helps free another wrongfully convicted man

Photo/Jonathan Wiggs
After 30 years in prison on a wrongful rape conviction, George D. Perrot was freed Wednesday, thanks in part to the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism at Brandeis.
Bristol County Superior Court Judge Robert Kane overturned Perrot’s conviction Jan. 26, saying “justice may not have been done.” Kane ruled that there is now scientific consensus that the FBI microscopic hair analysis key to George D. Perrot’s conviction on a 1985 break-in and rape charge in Springfield, Mass., had no scientific support and would not be admissible today. 
Despite serious questions raised by forensic experts over several decades, it wasn’t until 2012 that the FBI, under pressure from media reports, acknowledged that its examiners who had testified in thousands of trials had frequently testified beyond the limits of science. This led to an ongoing review of thousands of cases, including Perrot’s.
Kane released Perrot, 48, on his own recognizance at a Feb. 10 bail hearing, saying that after a “rigorous review” he is “reasonably sure that George Perrot did not physically or sexually assault Mary Prekop,” the 78-year-old victim who, despite intense pressure from police and prosecutors, refused to waver from her repeated statements that she knew Perrot from her neighborhood, and he did not meet the description of her attacker.
The Schuster Institute began investigating Perrot’s claim of innocence in 2011 after he said he had received no response from any of the organizations he had written to for legal help.
“What happened to George is an enormous tragedy. And all of us who have worked on his case are deeply grateful that Judge Kane clearly recognized in his landmark decision overturning Perrot’s conviction that he was not given a fair trial,” said Schuster Institute founding director Florence Graves.
Perrot was 17 when he was arrested, and first convicted in 1987. After the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court overturned the conviction, prosecutors tried him a second time, in 1992, and he was convicted again largely based on the flawed FBI hair testimony.
Prosecutors have not yet said whether they will appeal the Jan. 26 decision overturning the case, retry Perrot, or drop the case entirely. Kane said that while the Commonwealth has the right to appeal, he was “confident” that his decision could not be successfully appealed.
“'How could this have possibly happened?' is what everyone asks me once they know George’s story,” Graves said. Perrot’s team of pro bono attorneys included lawyers from Ropes & Gray, the Massachusetts Committee for Public Counsel Services Innocence Program and the Innocence Project.
Perrot’s case is the second one investigated by the Schuster Institute that has led to an overturned conviction. In May 2015, Angel Echavarria, who was serving a life sentence without parole for a murder he had always maintained he did not commit, was freed from prison and one month later exonerated.
The Schuster Institute hires 25 to 30 Brandeis student research assistants each year to work on projects, including the Justice Brandeis Law Project, which investigates potential wrongful convictions. “These incredibly talented students have made significant contributions to all of our wrongful conviction investigations,” said Graves.  “In fact, they are a key factor in our success.”

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