Roy Brown, who used DNA evidence to prove his innocence and overturn his conviction for a 1991 Cayuga County murder, died recently, according to The Innocence Project, the nonprofit which helped litigate his case.
Brown was freed from prison in January 2007 and formally cleared of all charges that March after serving 15 years of a 25-years-to-life sentence for the May 1991 murder of Sabina Kulakowski in the town of Aurelius.
The Innocence Project, a nonprofit founded in 1992 to exonerate the wrongfully convicted and which worked with Brown beginning in 2005, shared the news of Brown's death in a Facebook post Monday night.
According to CNY Central, which the Project cites, Brown died Friday in Manatee County, Florida, where he had most recently been living.
Throughout the original trial and several appeals, including an unsuccessful 2003 attempt to introduce new evidence, Brown continuously maintained his innocence.
That persistence, which included researching his own case using the Freedom of Information Act to find new information in court documents, paid off in 2007 when Cayuga County Surrogate Court Judge Mark Fandrich ordered Brown's conviction vacated.
On May 23, 1991, Kulakowski, a county social worker, was found naked, beaten, stabbed, bitten and strangled on Blanchard Road in Aurelius while the farmhouse she lived in burned nearby.
The next year, a jury convicted Brown of the killing based in part on testimony from his ex-wives that connected the bite marks on Kulakowski's body to incidents in which he'd bitten them in anger, and threats he'd made against the lives of county workers in Kulakowski's office.
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However, Brown and his defense team eventually were allowed to introduce new DNA evidence taken from a shirt found at the scene of the murder that pointed to Barry Bench, the brother of Kulakowski's estranged boyfriend, whose family owned the farmhouse she was living in at the time.
Bench committed suicide in 2003 by laying in front of an Amtrak train, an act that came just a few days after he'd received a letter from Brown urging him to confess in light of affidavits Brown had uncovered describing Bench's strange behavior the night of the murder.
According to the Innocence Project webpage on Brown, the prosecution at the time also did not originally disclose that an expert concluded that the bite marks on the body could not have belonged to Brown.
Then-Cayuga County District Attorney James Vargason, who prosecuted the original case, said in 2007 that it would have been a professional error not to focus on Brown as a suspect and there had been nothing malevolent about the process.
Cayuga County Sheriff Brian Schenck said Tuesday that, while the investigation into Kulakowski's death had been reopened following Brown's exoneration, it has since been closed.
"We closed the investigation after we confirmed with evidence that Mr. Brown did not commit that crime and evidence pointed to Mr. Barry Bench having committed that crime," Schenck said.