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$13,655,940 Award For False Massachusetts Rape Conviction

by Matthew T. Clarke

On October 4, 2006, a federal court in Massachusetts awarded $13,655,940 to a man falsely convicted of rape.

Eric Sarsfield was living in Marlborough, Massachusetts in July 1987 when Ms. Toni Gustus was raped in the same community. Gustus reported the crime and forensic samples were collected from her at a hospital. Days later, Sarsfield was stopped on the street by Marlborough police, who felt he matched the description of Gustus?s rapist. However, he did not have a cross tattoo on his upper right arm as had the attacker.

Police focused on Sarsfield. They repeatedly showed his photograph to Gustus even though she did not identify him as her assailant. They also falsely indicated to Gutus that Sarsfield had a history of domestic violence and a criminal history. They had Sarsfield stand by himself in a very dark room and brought in Gustus to identify him. When she indicated that the light was insufficient, they insisted that she identify him, indicating that he might otherwise get away with having raped her. They made Sarsfield put on the rapist?s jacket that had been left in Gustus?s apartment. Finally, Gutus caved, identifying Sarsfield both there and at trial.

Based upon the identification, Sarsfield was indicted and arrested. However, this was insufficient evidence for trial and police could not explain the missing tattoo. So, three days before trial, Detective Sergeant Robert J. Jusseaume fabricated a postdated police report in which he falsely claimed that Sarsfield had ?volunteered? to him shortly after the rape that he had been in the vicinity of the crime at the time it occurred, that he used to draw fake tattoos on his arm and that he volunteered for the one-man lineup. Based upon the bogus victim identification and the falsified police report, Sarsfield was convicted of rape, assault and battery and sentenced to ten to fifteen years in prison.

Sarsfield was denied parole at his first three annual hearings because he refused to admit guilt. Finally, after ten years in prison, Sarsfield was released on parole and required to register as a sex offender. One year later, with the assistance of the Innocence Project, Sarsfield won post-conviction access to the forensic evidence for DNA testing and the results of the tests conclusively exonerated him, On August 3, 2000, his conviction was vacated. Nonetheless, Scarsfield was harassed in 2002 when a state trooper threatened to arrest him if he did not register as a sex offender.

Sarsfield filed, suit in federal district court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging violations of his civil rights in the false arrest, malicious prosecution and fabrication of evidence that led to his imprisonment naming the City of Marlborough and eight police officers as defendants. U.S. District Judge Rya Zobel awarded him $13,650,000 in damages against all defendants. Sarsfield was represented by Brookline attorney George L. Garfinkle and Barry Scheck of New York. See: Sarsfield v. City of Marlborough, USDC D MA, Case No. 03-10319-RWZ.

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Related legal case

Sarsfield v. City of Marlborough

The complaint and court order are available in the brief bank.