Wrongful Conviction of Anthony Capozzi: The Hindsight of DNA
William J. Morgan, Jr.©
On September 29, 2006, a woman named Joan Diver from Clarence, a
suburb of Buffalo in Western New York, was found unclothed, beaten,
and strangled to death on bike path in the Town of Newstead, a
popular attraction for bikers and joggers (Becker, 2006). Her
husband, Steven Diver, stated that he had seen her vehicle parked
near the bike path on the morning of the crime and provided a DNA
sample to eliminate him as a suspect. While the Diver case was
lacking sexual assault, the killer left a DNA sample behind that
conclusively linked him to the murder.
modus operandi of the killer was familiar to detectives from cases
of serial rapes and murders 1986-1994, which included nine rapes and
two murders. The killer preferred white females, stalked parks,
secluded areas, and bike paths in the Western New York area,
attacked the victim from behind, and left a signature of double
ligature marks from a chain on the necks of victims (Becker, 2006;
Warner³, 2007). The DNA and modus operandi matched cases from as
far back as 1983 where a 13-year-old girl was raped as she rode
along railroad tracks on her way to school; the incident occurred
long before DNA evidence was available and where the rapist-killer
left DNA at 8 of the rapes/murders (Warner & Becker, 2006). The
other women killed were Christine Mazur and Linda Yalem; the latter
was killed on September 29, 1990 as anniversary dates are important
to serial killers.
A profile of the killer created by criminal investigators revealed
an organized, arrogant, nonpsychotic, methodical, meticulous,
plotting individual, who left few clues behind, is white, and now in
his 40s or 50s (Becker¹, 2007; Warner & Becker, 2006). Most
important was that he was becoming increasingly violent. The sample
left behind by the killer, which turned out to be a drop of sweat
left in the vehicle of Joan Diver (Warner², 2007), let the people
of Buffalo know that the Bike Path Killer-Rapist had returned.
Because of a lapse in attacks since 1994, officials thought that the
killer may have been incarcerated and the most recent murder due to
release of an inmate. A recently enacted law requires all felons,
including probationers, to submit to the DNA state databank that
attempted to match to all DNA samples provided, and yielded no
results; all parolees who had not provided a court-mandated sample
were pursued (Becker, 2006).
In January of 2007, the eating utensils of Altemio Sanchez were
collected from a local Buffalo restaurant where the suspect ate and
processed for DNA; the samples matched that from the crime scenes of
the Bike Path killer/rapist (Gryta¹, 2007; Thompson, 2007). Sanchez
was charged with the death of Christine Mazur, Linda Yalem, and Joan
Diver; these are assertions that he vehemently denies (Gryta²,
2007; Warner¹, 2007). Because DNA was only recovered from the
vehicle of Diver and not her body, the case is circumstantial (Gryta¹,
2007). The attorney of Sanchez commented that the admissibly of
evidence collected, and when, would be an issue brought before the
court, and was expected to be the main issue. However, because of a
five-year statute of limitations according to New York State law,
the rapes cannot be prosecuted although five of the rapes and all
murders were linked to Sanchez. (Warner², 2007). Friends and family
portrayed Sanchez as friendly guy that would be least expected to
commit a crime of this magnitude. A former profiler for the FBI said
that is the psychopathology of serial killers: normalcy, sanity, and
legitimately nice. For example, in the mid 1980s Sanchez was a
little league baseball coach, volunteer for local charities, and
known for his kindness and generosity. During that time, Sanchez was
a suspect in the rapes but dropped for lack of evidence.
In 1987, Anthony Capozzi was convicted of two rapes in Delaware Park
based on eyewitness testimony, the suspicious activity of a man
matching his description by a former police officer, the
identification of the suspect in police line-ups, a match in blood
type of the offender, and strikingly similar facial features and
build (Becker³, 2007; Warner³, 2007). Sentenced to 11 2/3 to 35
years for the rapes, he served 21½ years before investigators had
their doubts about the conviction; Capozzi spent that long in prison
because he maintained his innocence and refused to accept
responsibility for the crimes. The Erie County DA, Frank Clark,
cited that physical or DNA evidence to overturn such a conviction
was lacking and because the conviction was based mainly on
eyewitness identification (Warner³, 2007). DNA testing was not
available or in its' infancy at the time of the crimes and
conviction (Warner4, 2007).
Investigators looking over the case files discovered that indeed DNA
evidence did exist from the Delaware Park rapes stored, preserved,
and catalogued at the Erie County Medical Center before the use of
computers to accumulate such evidence (Becker², 2007). The
discovered evidence soundly exonerated Anthony Capozzi of the crime
and DNA matched that of Altemio Sanchez. In early April, an Erie
County Judge vacated the charges and dismissed the case in the
interest of justice, thus, setting Capozzi free after incarceration
for over two decades ("Judge vacates," 2007). To avoid a
trial based on the overwhelming physical evidence, Altemio Sanchez
pled guilty to the three murders on May 16, 2007 and his attorney
likened his impulse control problems and animosity toward women to a
drug or alcohol addict (Beebe & Becker², 2007).
The case of the Bike Path Rapist/killer spanned over two decades
without a conviction and the conviction of an innocent man based on
multiple types of evidence. A lack of DNA technology at the time of
the crime made it possible for a man to be wrongly convicted and
exonerated. This is also a case where DNA convicted a man for
terrorizing the women of Western New York for two decades. The
advent and improvements in DNA technology proved to exonerate those
wrongly convicted, process evidence from suspects or eliminate
potential ones, focus on those in the DNA computer bank when a match
is made in criminal cases, and store evidence in cases where
offenders have not been identified. DNA evidence has been the
vanguard to exonerations of wrongful convictions and miscarriages of
justice, especially where witness misidentification and/or the
misuse of informants was the foremost reason for a wrongful
William J. Morgan, Jr.©
45 Oak Street
Buffalo, NY 14203
William J. Morgan Jr. is ABD at Capella University and a criminal
justice professor at Erie Community College.
Becker, M. (2006, November 19). Felon's DNA being sifted in search
for killer-rapist: Parolees hunted down for not giving sample. The
Buffalo News, C1.
Becker, M.¹ (2007, January 21). Two live in juxtaposition: How did
Altemio C. Sanchez, the ordinary guy, turn out to be charged as the
bike path killer. The Buffalo News, A1, A2.
Becker, M.² (2007, March 29). Newfound evidence that exonerated
Capozzi stored at ECMC all along: Testing available sin '90s: DNA
from '83, '84 rapes matches Sanchez, DA says. The
Buffalo News, A1, A2.
Becker, M.³ (2007, March 30). How Capozzi's case went terribly
wrong. The Buffalo News, A1, A2.
Beebe, M. & Becker, M.¹ (2007, March 31). Handling of Capozzi
evidence spurs feud: ECMC officials, Clark at odds over blame for
evidence snafu. The Buffalo News, A1, A2.
Beebe, M. & Becker, M.² (2007, May 17). Sanchez admits he's a
killer. The Buffalo News, A1, A4.
Gryta, M.¹ (2007, March 2). Sanchez indictment expected in Diver
case: Alleged bike path killer tied by DNA to 3rd victim). The
Buffalo News, A1.
Gryta, M.² (2007, March 13). Sanchez pleads not guilty to 3
slayings: Opposes on trial to cover all. The Buffalo News, B1.
Judge vacates Capozzi's rape convictions (2007, April 2). The
Buffalo News, A8.
Thompson, C. (2007, January 23). Man accused of being "bike
path rapist" pleads not guilty. The Buffalo News, A1.
Warner, G. & Becker, M. (2006, November 18). Bike path rapist's
first attack may have been in '84: Details of girl's rape identical
to others, but DNA was unavailable. The Buffalo
News, pp. A-1, A-2.
Warner, G.¹ (2007, January 17). Alleged bike path killer insists
he's innocent: attorney may seek new venue issue of fair trial is
raised, separate DNA tests sought. The Buffalo
News, p. B1.
Warner, G.² (2007, January 19). Sanchez is facing indictment in 2
killings: Grand jury hears evidence in bike path slayings. The
Buffalo News, pp, A1, A2.
Warner, G.³ (2007, January 28). Jailed man may be innocent:
Delaware Park rapes that sent man to prison bear striking
similarities to bike path attacks. The Buffalo
News, pp. A1, A2.
Warner, G. 4 (2007, March 4). Purchase at hardware store may link
Sanchez to latest bike path murder: Lack of DNA on or near Joan
Diver's body mean case hinges on circumstantial
evidence. The Buffalo News, pp. A1, A2.