Boston Globe

Exonerated, 17 years late
Convicted of a sex crime he didn't commit, a Mattapan man imprisoned and long shunned has his innocence proclaimed

By Maria Cramer, Globe Staff  |  May 2, 2008

For the past seven years, a photo of Guy Randolph has been posted at Boston police stations, labeling him the most dangerous type of sex offender. Neighbors who knew of his criminal record and the 10 years he spent in prison insulted him when they saw him on the streets. Police ordered him away from schools and playgrounds if he walked too close.

Guy Randolph
Grace Roberts held godson Guy Randolph at Suffolk Superior Court yesterday as his mother, Ruth Johns, stood by. (George Rizer/Globe Staff)

But yesterday, in a hearing that took less than 10 minutes, a Suffolk Superior Court judge said the wrong man had been convicted. More than 17 years after he was first arrested in the sexual assault on a 6-year-old girl, Randolph was exonerated of all charges and declared innocent.

Afterward, Randolph, a shy, small 50-year-old man who has struggled for years with schizophrenia and alcoholism, crumpled into the arms of his godmother, who pulled him into her tight embrace.

Randolph said little, but offered this: "Justice has been served."

"It's over," said his mother, Ruth Johns, as she stood with him in the courtroom. "He's free. He's free."

Both prosecutors and Randolph's current lawyer, Sejal Patel, agree that Randolph's case is a stunning example of what can go wrong in the legal system when a defendant is poor, mentally ill, and does not have a strong advocate.

"It's just tragic to get it this late. It's really something that fell through the cracks," Suffolk Assistant District Attorney Joseph Ditkoff said in a telephone interview. "He was forgotten."

Suffolk Superior Court Judge Margaret Hinkle reversed the conviction yesterday and ordered that Randolph's name be removed from state sex offender registry, after prosecutors agreed that the case had been weak from the beginning.

Randolph's ordeal began on a cold December afternoon in 1990. A little girl was playing on a snow bank in Roslindale when a man on a bicycle approached her, flashed a knife, and held it to her cheek. He cornered the child next to a dumpster, told her to take down her pants, and molested her.

About 20 minutes later, the police picked up Randolph, who was walking near the scene of the crime on American Legion Highway. At the time, Randolph was homeless, struggling with a drinking problem, and living at the Pine Street Inn, a shelter in the South End.

He had been arrested before, for crimes like shoplifting and breaking and entering. But no one had ever accused him of being violent or a predator.

When police asked the child whether she recognized Randolph as her attacker, she said no. But a few minutes later, after talking to her aunt, she accused Randolph. During a grand jury investigation, the child described her attacker in ways that did not match Randolph, including his clothing and height, Patel said. There was also no physical evidence connecting Randolph to the assault, records show.

Randolph was indicted anyway, and his lawyer at the time persuaded him to plead guilty to indecent assault and battery on a child under the Alford plea, which allows a defendant to claim innocence but acknowledge the prosecution has enough evidence to convict him.

Ditkoff said he does not know why the prosecutors, who were working under a different district attorney, pursued such a weak case.

"I think back then - and this is to some extent speculation - people had a different view of the degree to which a prosecutor really needs to examine the case himself and make sure it's solid," he said. Prosecutors and police also did not know how best to interview child victims, he said.

Randolph was sentenced to 10 years, all of it suspended except for the four months he had spent in jail after he was first arrested.

When he later failed to show up to an alcohol counseling session, a condition of his probation, a judge sent him back to prison for the remainder for his sentence.

In the decade he spent at MCI-Concord state prison, no one asked the court to take another look at the case, Patel said.

His mother, who always believed in his innocence, visited him two to three times a month, dropping off money so he could pay for cigarettes and candy.

In 2001, just before he was released, he went before a civil hearing so a judge could decide whether he was "sexually dangerous" and should be committed to the Massachusetts Treatment Center in Bridgewater indefinitely, a routine proceeding in cases of convicted sex offenders.

At that time, prosecutors in the Suffolk district attorney's office, which had examined the case to prepare for the hearing, began to have serious doubts about Randolph's guilt, which they shared with the judge.

His attorney in the civil matter, Sondra Schmidt, successfully fought for his release.

Shortly after Randolph went to live with his mother in Mattapan, he received a letter from the Massachusetts Sex Offender Registry Board, telling him he had to go to the police station and declare himself a Level 3 sex offender.

"He would say, 'I shouldn't have to go down,' " said Johns, who is 74. But they were terrified of the legal consequences and dutifully went to the station.

"I didn't want them to put him in jail," Johns said.

The stigma of the label was almost unbearable. Johns would tell her son how proud she was of him and that the people who called him names were "ignorant." But he became withdrawn and despondent, nothing like the outgoing, gregarious boy she had raised.

"It's devastating to see a person go through something like this," Johns said.

At the same time, Schmidt had written to the Committee for Public Counsel Services to ask that a lawyer be appointed who could get Randolph's conviction overturned.

In 2005, Patel was assigned to the case.

She immediately began contacting the district attorney's office. It would take her more than two years to gather enough evidence, including transcripts of court proceedings and medical records, that would help her persuade a judge to overturn the conviction.

By the end of the day yesterday, Randolph's name and photo were removed from the registry. Ditkoff said his office tried to contact the victim, who is now in her 20s, about two months ago. She has not responded to the messages left. Patel said she tried to reach Randolph's lawyer in the original case, Calvin Wier, without success. A message left by the Globe at his law office yesterday afternoon was not returned.

After yesterday's hearing, Johns said she wanted to take Randolph out for Chinese food, his favorite, and planned to call her pastor and other son to share the good news.

"I'm just grateful, so very grateful," she said, after hugging Patel, who fought back tears.

"You celebrate this," Patel said. "But it's also sad that we have to celebrate the outcome to something that shouldn't have happened."

Johns believes Randolph will be OK. He takes his medication faithfully, but suffers from flashbacks and cannot get a job because of his disability.

"Guy has suffered a lot, but he's a strong person," she said.

Johns said she was not bitter, just grateful to Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley's office for acknowledging the mistake.

"Life is too short to be angry," she said. "I choose to be happy."

Her son had a harder time discussing the effects the case had on him.

"I don't want to talk about what happened to me," he said after the hearing. "All it does is upset me."

His mother gave him a $20 bill so he could buy cigarettes, and he quietly walked out of the courthouse.

Maria Cramer can be reached at mcramer@globe.com.


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