Rape convictions that put Anthony Capozzi in prison for 22 years were erased Monday because of recently found DNA evidence that tied the crimes to another man.
A prosecutor last week declared Capozzi, 50, exonerated. He is expected to be freed this week.
Capozzi was not in court for the seven-minute hearing when Erie County Judge Shirley Troutman threw out the two 1987 rape convictions. Capozzi, who has schizophrenia, was transferred from a prison last month to the Central New York Psychiatric Center in Marcy.
Prosecutors had supported a request by Capozzi's lawyer, Thomas D'Agostino, that the conviction be lifted.
"I truly regret that this had to happen, everybody trying to do the right thing and going through all the right steps and coming out with the wrong result," said District Attorney Frank Clark. "I think a simple 'I'm sorry' would never be enough," the prosecutor said.
D'Agostino has said he is prepared to sue the state for wrongful imprisonment as a way to ensure Capozzi is taken care of.
Capozzi, who had been in prison since his 1985 arrest, was found guilty of the rapes February 6, 1987, and sentenced to a term of 11 to 35 years.
He had been denied parole five times since becoming eligible in 1997. His refusal to admit to the crimes made it impossible to complete a mandatory sex offender program, his defense said.
"It's the biggest Catch-22," D'Agostino said.
The break in his case came with the January 15 arrest of Altemio Sanchez, 49, after DNA evidence allegedly identified him as a serial criminal known as the Bike Path Rapist.
After linking Sanchez to three murders and several rapes dating to 1981, investigators questioned whether the 1983 and 1984 attacks for which Capozzi was convicted -- which occurred in the same park as two of the rapes linked to Sanchez -- might also have been committed by the Bike Path Rapist.
Tests were conducted on DNA evidence collected after those two rapes and recently found at the Erie County Medical Center, and Erie County District Attorney Frank Clark announced last week that the DNA matched Sanchez, not Capozzi.
Capozzi resembled Sanchez at the time of the rapes, and the victims identified him in lineups.
Sanchez has pleaded not guilty to charges of murdering two women in the early 1990s and one woman last fall. He is not charged in any of the rapes because the five-year statute of limitations has expired.