SALEM — George Perrot’s case was hailed by defense attorneys in 2016 when he was freed after spending more than 30 years in prison for a rape he said he did not commit. Prosecutors dropped the charges after Perrot’s high-powered legal team showed he had been linked to the crime based upon the flawed testimony of an FBI analyst who had examined a single strand of hair found on the bed of the victim, a 78-year-old Springfield woman.
On Monday, however, Perrot, 51, was back in court, charged again with rape, this time of a woman who was found on the sidewalk in Lawrence, according to prosecutors.
Perrot pleaded not guilty during a brief appearance in Essex Superior Court in Salem, and his attorney said he intends to fight the charges, which also include resisting arrest and assault and battery on a police officer. Perrot’s lawyer, Thomas J. Torrisi, said when his client was freed after spending his entire adult life in prison “he was released with no direction and he fell into what would be expected, a life of living on the street, of drugs and alcohol.”
“It took George 30 years to be exonerated from a prior, very serious charge — 30 years of his life that was taken away from him, and the system has failed him,” Torrisi told reporters outside the courthouse. “And in this particular case, I would suggest it will certainly not take 30 years to be resolved. We hope to have a just resolution in a short period of time.”
Perrot was arrested on Jan. 4 by Lawrence police after he was found unconscious on top of a partially naked, unconscious woman, prosecutors say. The Essex district attorney’s office alleges that Perrot raped the woman, charged at the police officer who woke him up, and was combative during the booking process.
The alleged victim was revived with Narcan and told officers that Perrot offered her drugs and she did not remember anything after that. She said she did not consent to sexual contact with Perrot and was not in a relationship with him.
Perrot was indicted March 25 and has been held without bail since Jan. 7, when he was initially arraigned in Lawrence District Court. His next court date is set for June 10, when prosecutors hope to have him surrender saliva for DNA testing.
Speaking to reporters, Torrisi said the alleged victim made clear in her grand jury testimony and during cross-examination in Lawrence District Court that she and Perrot “hung together” and that she bought drugs with his money and used those drugs voluntarily. Perrot has been sober during the last five months he has been in jail, Torrisi said.
“This case will be decided on these facts, and these facts only,” Torrisi said, taking pains to distinguish the current rape charge from his client’s previous wrongful conviction. “What happened to him before is an absolute shame, but it will have no bearing on how this case will be ultimately resolved.”
Perrot made national headlines in 2016, when he was freed after a long legal campaign by attorneys from the Innocence Project, Ropes & Gray, and the Committee for Public Counsel Services, the state public defenders’ office.
The attorneys demonstrated that his conviction had been the result of erroneous testimony by FBI analyst Wayne Oakes, who went beyond the limits of science when he used a single hair to link Perrot to the rape of the 78-year-old woman in 1985, when Perrot was 17. Oakes’ testimony was critical, according to the Innocence Project, because the woman never identified Perrot as her attacker. She maintained the man who raped her was clean shaven, while Perrot had a goatee and moustache.
A confession obtained by police from Perrot came while he was high on drugs and incoherent.
Francis Bloom, who prosecuted the case, later admitted he authorized the use of a phony confession to induce two suspects to cooperate with the investigation.
Last year, Perrot filed a federal lawsuit accusing Springfield police, the FBI, and prosecutors of trying to frame him. The lawsuit, filed by a civil rights law firm based in Chicago, contends that police planted the hair at the crime scene and withheld evidence. The suit also alleges that officials knew the hair analysis used to convict Perrot was “junk science” but pressed ahead anyway.
On Monday, attorneys from the Innocence Project, Ropes & Gray, and the Committee for Public Counsel Services who worked to free Perrot either declined to comment or did not return e-mails. A lawyer handling Perrot’s federal lawsuit did not return a message left at her law firm.
Daniel Medwed, a Northeastern Law School professor, said Perrot’s arraignment should not call into question the legal efforts to exonerate him in 2016.
“I think it’s really important to not rush to judgment in this particular case,” said Medwed, stressing that Perrot, like all criminal defendants, is presumed innocent. “The fact that he has been arraigned on a current rape charge really has no bearing on the past case from 35 years ago. They’re apples and oranges, and it was a rush to judgment originally in the Springfield case” that led to Perrot’s wrongful conviction, he said.
“The evidence was threadbare,” added Medwed, who serves on the board of the New England Innocence Project, another organization that seeks to free the wrongfully convicted. “He was convicted based on a hair.”
Torrisi also said that the latest allegations against Perrot should not be seen as an embarrassment for the legal team that worked to exonerate him in 2016.
“I do not believe it’s a black mark against the Innocence Project whatsoever,” he said. “It’s just terrible circumstances that have developed, that he has found himself in, and partly to his own doing. But I think he’s going to become a better man at the end of this, when all is said and done.”