The conviction of an area man Long Branch man, released from prison in 1997 after serving four years for the 1988 rape of a 17-year old girl, will be vacated, Acting Monmouth County Prosecutor Christopher J. Gramiccioni announced in a press release recently.
The results of a recent DNA test demonstrate the man, now 49-year-old Dion Harrell, of Long Branch, has been excluded as a possible contributor of biological evidence obtained from the victim, the release said.
“This is wonderful news for Mr. Harrell and his family,” Gramiccioni said. “Our goal as prosecutors is to see that justice is done. Mr. Harrell’s 1992 conviction was based upon the best evidence available at that time. Advancements in science have now provided evidence of Mr. Harrell’s innocence, and our duty to act is clear. Today, modern DNA technology has provided justice. We will be working collaboratively with Mr. Harrell’s attorneys at the Innocence Project in New York to take the necessary steps to vacate the 1992 conviction.”
Harrell was 22 years old when he was identified by the victim, just days after the Sept. 18, 1988 rape, as the man who sexually assaulted her in a dark parking lot. The girl accused Harrell of dragging her into an empty parking lot along Broadway where he allegedly raped her, before stealing her purse and fleeing the scene.
The girl went home and reported the incident to her mother who called Long Branch police. A sexual assault forensics examination was conducted at Monmouth Medical Center where evidentiary samples were collected as part of the process.
A jury convicted Harrell of sexual assault following a 1992 trial before Monmouth County Superior Court Judge Theodore J. Labrecque. Harrell was found guilty based on the teenage victim’s positive identification and blood type evidence that placed Harrell in the population that “could have” committed the rape, according to Gramiccioni.
Blood typing was the best technology available at that time, the release said. Harrell was sentenced to eight years in a New Jersey state prison, and records show he was released on parole in 1997, after having served slightly more than four years in prison.
The background on DNA evidence …
DNA evidence was first used in the United States in 1987, when a Florida man was convicted of rape after DNA tests matched his blood sample with the semen traces recovered from a rape victim in Orange County, Florida.
But it wasn’t until after 1992 that the New Jersey State Police Forensics Laboratory started testing and utilizing DNA evidence for criminal prosecutions in New Jersey.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) forensic database was created in 1994, six years after the incident.
— Edited press release from the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office