Innocent man cleared after serving 10 years as ‘Bronx rapist’
By Laurel Babcock May 16, 2014 | 7:09am
Disabled Navy veteran Tyrone Hicks spent 10 years behind bars, branded “the Bronx rapist” — but he knew all the while he was innocent and struggled every day to figure out a way to prove it.
When he was released seven years ago, he enlisted the help of a group of law-school students.
Six years later, their undying efforts uncovered stunning evidence buried within a case file that convinced a Bronx Supreme Court judge to clear him of all charges Thursday.
“I’m so grateful,” Hicks, 57, said of the “angels” from New York Law School’s Post-Conviction Innocence Clinic.
The legal eagles found that never-before-tested scrapings from beneath the victim’s fingernails contained DNA that did not belong to Hicks — proving he could not have committed the crime.
“It’s great to see someone innocent go free,” said one of the students, Astrid Avedissian. “It’s amazing to see it.”
Hicks’ ordeal began 16 years ago as a sex fiend dubbed “the Bronx rapist” was terrorizing the borough with a series of attacks on women.
Hicks’ own parents thought he looked like a police sketch of the monster, and reported him to investigators, who put him in a lineup. A 27-year-old woman who had been raped in an alley ID’d him as her attacker.
From then on, the weight of the legal system bore down on the former Navy gunner, who was accused of all the attacks based only on the 27-year-old victim’s claims.
Hicks — who had a record for some minor drug sales — said that, during his first night in jail, he realized his life as an accused sex predator would be horrific.
“This Spanish guy told me that if I lay down and went to sleep, they were going to kill me right there,” Hicks said.
Though he was never connected by evidence to any other rapes — and vehemently denied involvement in the attack on the 27-year-old — he was convicted of the attack based only on her testimony.
“That was all the evidence there ever was,” said Adele Bernhard, who directs New York Law School’s clinic and who led the student effort.
Hicks’ prison time was harrowing. He told of having his hair set on fire by a fellow inmate, of developing diabetes, of missing funerals for cherished relatives and of losing his wife to divorce.
His only refuge became the prison libraries, where, he said, he researched university law-school exoneration programs “from sunup to sundown.”
He continued his fight to clear his name after he was released in 2007 and forced to register as a sex offender. That’s when he met Bernhard, who was then heading the post-conviction project at Pace’s School of Law, which also worked on the effort.
“I was impressed by the vehemence,” she said.
Her team came up with the bombshell evidence — DNA tests that show the skin scrapings under the victims’ nails did not come from Hicks.
“They never gave up on me,” he said.
Additional reporting by Laura Italiano