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Man cleared of rapes after 19 years in prison

©Associated Press

April 4, 2003

BOSTON -- A man who spent 19 years in prison after three rape victims identified him as their attacker was freed Thursday, cleared by DNA tests on evidence dug up by a law student working on his case.

"It's a big change," Dennis Maher said at the Boston office of his attorneys. "I expected to die in prison and now I'm out."

After prosecutors dropped charges against him before a packed courtroom, Maher said he had a message for the women: "What happened to you really happened, and I hold no grudges against you."

Maher, 42, a former Army paratrooper and mechanic, said he blamed Lowell police and his former attorney, now deceased, but was too overwhelmed by his newfound freedom to feel any anger about his years of incarceration.

After his conviction in 1983, Maher told the court it was a travesty. He proclaimed his innocence during two decades in prison.

His break came in 2001, when the law student discovered two boxes of evidence, including the clothing of one of the victims, in the basement of the Cambridge courthouse.

Prosecutors agreed to have the clothing sent to California for DNA testing, and the results showed that Maher did not commit the rape. A slide from the rape kit of a second victim was sent for testing, and those results also cleared Maher.

On Thursday, prosecutors agreed to drop charges in all three cases against him.

District Attorney Martha Coakley said there was no indication the case was marred by sloppy police work. All three women identified Maher as their attacker, and their description of clothing and a military knife matched items found in Maher's car.

"Obviously, we have profound regrets about this," Coakley said. "There is not much you can say to someone who has unfortunately been at the wrong end of an imperfect system."

Maher is considering a civil lawsuit, though he said money won't give him back nearly two decades of his life.

"I should be married with children. You can't make up for that," he said. "Compensation will go part of the way, but you can never make up for what I lost."

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