----- Original Message -----
From: Doug Tjapkes
Sent: Tuesday, January 24, 2006 11:15 AM
Subject: This is Number 173!

DNA test frees convict after 24 years


January 24, 2006

TAMPA -- Alan Crotzer stepped into the warm sunlight Monday and raised his arms to the sky, celebrating his freedom after more than 24 years behind bars for crimes he didn't commit.

A judge freed Crotzer, 45, after DNA testing and other evidence convinced prosecutors he wasn't involved in a 1981 armed robbery and rapes that led to his 130-year prison sentence.

Crotzer said he was looking forward to a barbecue with his family. Then he wanted to take a bath in a real bathtub.

"I want to soak," he said. "I want to get some of this off me."

He walked free more than three years after he wrote to the Innocence Project in New York, a legal clinic that seeks to exonerate inmates through DNA testing. DNA has been used to clear at least 172 people wrongly convicted of crimes in 31 states since 1989, according to the group.

"Are you ready for what you waited so long to hear?" Circuit Judge J. Rogers Padgett said during a brief hearing. "Motion granted -- you're a free man."

Crotzer's relatives and other courtroom spectators clapped and cheered as a bailiff removed the shackles from his wrists and ankles.

Crotzer and brothers Douglas James and Corlenzo James were convicted of robbing a Tampa family in 1981. Douglas James and Crotzer also were found guilty of kidnapping and raping a 38-year-old woman and her 12-year-old daughter at gunpoint.

A victim picked Crotzer out of a photo lineup. But Douglas James says Crotzer is innocent. He said he and his brother were the rapists and a friend was their accomplice.

Crotzer said he'll live with a sister and try to find work. His attorneys said they'll seek state compensation for him.

"There ain't no compensation for what they done to me," said Crotzer, whose mother died while he was in prison. "But I'm not bitter."

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