Mo. man feed after 24 years files suit
By Jim Salter
ST. LOUIS — A man who spent 24 years in prison for a rape he didn't commit sued St. Louis County and the officers who arrested him, saying investigators ignored inconsistencies in the victim's description.
Johnny Briscoe, now 54, was freed in 2006 after DNA evidence exonerated him. He filed suit earlier this month in U.S. District Court in St. Louis. The suit claims his constitutional rights were violated and seeks unspecified damages.
"The prime of his life was lost," Briscoe's attorney, Burt Newman, said Tuesday. "When he went into prison he was raising two young children. When he got out he had grandchildren."
Spokesmen for St. Louis County and the county police declined to comment.
The crime occurred in October 1982, in the suburb of Maryland Heights. A man burglarized a woman's apartment and raped her when she awoke. He talked to her a while and gave his name as John Briscoe. The woman later picked Briscoe's picture out of a lineup.
But the lawsuit pointed to several inconsistencies. The victim described the attacker as dark-skinned, about 5-foot-8, with normal teeth and a mustache. Briscoe is a light-skinned black man and 6-2, and had a gold-capped front tooth and a goatee.
Even so, Briscoe was convicted by an all-white jury. He said his defense attorney never met with him.
When the case was reopened, DNA on a cigarette butt at the rape scene was found to belong to Larry Smith, an acquaintance of Briscoe's who is serving a life term for another sexual assault.
Under state law, Briscoe was eligible for up to $36,500 in compensation for each year he was wrongly incarcerated, or more than $800,000, but he would have had to agree not to sue. Newman said the compensation falls short and Briscoe is confident he can win in court.
"Let me put it this way: If you walked up to someone on the street and asked them to go to prison for $36,000 a year, you wouldn't get many takers," Newman said.
When Briscoe was released in 2006, Prosecutor Robert McCulloch called the conviction a "terrible mistake." He said the wrong was made worse by years of delay in finding the cigarette evidence in storage after McCulloch requested a review in 2000.
Newman said Briscoe continues to try to get his life back in order, but often struggles to find work.
"He has an incredible attitude," Newman said. "The man is not bitter at all about what has happened. It's an inspiration to listen to him talk."
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