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$3.1 Million Settlement to Wrongly Convicted Massachusetts Prisoner

On July 28, 2009, within weeks of settling a similar wrongful conviction lawsuit that resulted in a $3.4 million payment to the estate of Kenneth Waters, the town of Ayer, Massachusetts agreed to pay $3.1 million to settle a federal complaint brought by former prisoner Dennis Maher. PLN previously reported the Waters case, which resulted in a total settlement of $14.1 million. [See: PLN, Dec. 2009, p.42].

Like Waters, Maher was exonerated by DNA evidence following intervention by the Innocence Project. He was re-leased in 2003 after serving 19 years in prison for two rapes and a sexual assault.

Maher was convicted of raping a woman who had been staying at an Ayer hotel in August 1983. He was also convicted of raping a woman in the city of Lowell, and sexually assaulting another Lowell woman who fought off her knife-wielding attacker.

Maher, a 23-year-old Army sergeant with no criminal record at the time, was arrested after he walked near the crime scene of the second Lowell assault. The victim said her attacker was wearing a red hooded sweatshirt, which is what Maher happened to have on. He was charged in all three cases and convicted at two trials in 1984 based on eyewitness identifications. “I didn’t do it,” he said when he was sentenced.

In 2001, a law student working with the Innocence Project found evidence from Maher’s case in a courthouse storage room. After DNA testing proved that Maher had not committed two of the crimes (DNA wasn’t available in the third case), he was exonerated and released from prison on April 3, 2003. Since his release he has worked as a diesel mechanic and now lives with his wife and two children.

Maher settled his suit against the city of Lowell in December 2008 for $160,000. One of the Lowell police officers he sued, Edward F. Davis, is now Boston’s police commissioner. “I’m really glad that DNA was able to work that issue and prove that he wasn’t responsible for [the crimes],” Davis said. “But no system is perfect.”

The $3.1 million settlement with the town of Ayer was likely higher due to misconduct by an Ayer police official who was also involved in the Waters case. Maher’s lawsuit had accused the police of “using improper eyewitness identification techniques, fudging chronologies, and failing to check [his] alibi.” See: Maher v. Town of Ayer, U.S.D.C. (D. Mass.), Case No. 1:06-cv-10514-RGS.

Additional source: Boston Globe

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Related legal case

Maher v. Town of Ayer

Please see the brief bank for documents related to this case.