NYC Awards $10M to Wrongly Convicted Black Man

After spending nearly 30 years in prison for a rape and robbery he did not commit, Mark Denny reached a settlement with New York City for nearly $10 million. New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer approved the settlement to avoid a potential $50 million lawsuit against the city and the New York Police Department (NYPD).

Stringer agreed to pay Denny a $9.75 million settlement, according to records obtained by The New York Post through the Freedom of Information Law. As part of the settlement, which Denny signed on May 24, he agreed to surrender his right to sue the city and hold the NYPD accountable for his arrest and imprisonment.

Comptroller spokeswoman Hazel Crampton-Hays told The North Star that the settlement was "in the best interest of the city." The spokeswoman did not provide further details about the case.

Denny was 17 when he and three other men were accused of robbing a Brooklyn Burger King in December 1987. He was also accused of raping an 18-year-old woman who worked at the fast food restaurant.

Denny was convicted in February 1989 on rape, sodomy, robbery, and coercion charges and sentenced to 57 years in prison. Throughout his time in prison, Denny maintained his innocence. He was denied several parole opportunities because he refused to “admit” guilt for crimes he did not commit.

The Innocence Project took on his case in 2009 and brought it to the attention of the Kings County (Brooklyn) District Attorney’s Conviction Review Unit. An investigation by the unit determined that the three other men charged were solely responsible for the crime, and that Denny had nothing to do with the robbery or the rape. The investigation also revealed that Denny was not even at the Burger King on the night of the crime, Essence reported. At his trial, Denny’s grandmother testified that they were at his mother’s house in Queens the night of the robbery and rape.

After nearly 30 years behind bars, Denny was finally exonerated in December 2017. His convictions on two other crimes in other New York counties were also dismissed. After learning of the Brooklyn District Attorney’s findings, New York County District Attorney Cy Vance and Chemung County District Attorney Weeden Wetmore dismissed those cases — one for possession of a weapon in Manhattan and another for unlawfully possessing a razor blade in prison.

“Mr. Denny has been waiting for this day for a very long time,” Nina Morrison, senior staff attorney for the Innocence Project, said the day Denny was exonerated. “We owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to District Attorney Eric Gonzalez and members of his conviction review unit for recognizing Mr. Denny’s innocence and taking extraordinary steps to right the wrongs that kept Mr. Denny incarcerated for his entire adult life.”

Morrison said the unit’s work was “a model for law enforcement around the nation, as more prosecutors’ offices are taking the initiatives to identify and correct wrongful convictions.”

In a “notice of claim” filed in March 2018, Denny alleged that more than a dozen NYPD detectives investigating the crime “targeted and framed” him. The claim, which warned the city of a potential $50 million lawsuit, alleged that detectives fabricated evidence and failed to check Denny’s alibi.

Denny also accused investigators of “intentionally refusing to investigate other obvious leads,” including testing forensic evidence collected from the crime scene. There was no physical evidence tying Denny to the scene of the crime, the Innocence Project noted.

The rape victim failed to identify Denny during a photo array but later picked him out of a lineup. The second victim, who was not shown a photo array with Denny’s photo, maintained that there were only three assailants and never identified Denny as a perpetrator.

“The NYPD’s fabricated and/or coercive evidence, which was presented to the prosecution prior to trial through false written and oral reports and to the jury through their false testimony at trial, was the sole basis of Mr. Denny’s conviction,” the filing said.

The claim said Denny “has suffered, and continues to suffer, severe, and ongoing damages,” which include “physical and emotional pain and suffering, physical sickness… loss of familial relationships,” income loss, as well as damage to his reputation.

About the Author

Nicole Rojas is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has published in various venues, including Newsweek, GlobalPost, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, and the Long Island Post. Nicole graduated from Boston University in 2012 with a degree in print journalism. She is an avid world traveler who recently explored Asia and Australia.