The Oneida Dispatch
By: LEEANNE ROOT, Dispatch Staff Writer
WAMPSVILLE – After changing into street clothes, Dan Lackey walked out of the Madison County Courthouse a free man and got to hold his five-month-old nephew, Gavin, for the first time.
He cried as he told the news media that he was looking forward to “getting a job and getting my life together.”
Stephen Lackey, Dan’s father, has been fighting to get his son out of prison since he was convicted of first-degree aggravated sexual abuse and first-degree sexual abuse in May of 2004. The alleged crime occurred in the City of Oneida in January of 2003.
“Steve hired a number of investigators beginning right after the conviction,” said Neal Rose, Lackey’s attorney. “He felt there were suspects out there that hadn’t been interviewed.”
He said that it was one of those investigators who uncovered the newly discovered evidence in Oswego County that led to Madison County Judge Biagio DiStefano vacating Lackey’s conviction.
The credibility of his accuser came into question after she was convicted for falsely reporting a similar incident just three months after Lackey’s conviction. She spent eight months in jail herself for the falsehoods.
“If presented to a jury there is no question in my mind that it could definitely affect the outcome of the case,” DiStefano said.
Rose said that there was no way Lackey’s lawyer during the trial, Ralph Cognetti, could have known about this since it happened after the trial.
“The information that’s led to this motion happened well after Mr. Cognetti was out of the picture,” he said.
Lackey has been serving an eight-year sentence at Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemore, N.Y. He was released on his own recognizance to his father and is to be under the supervision of the probation department.
“Prior to the trial Mr. Lackey had been released on his own recognizance to his father. He was in court on all occasions that were necessary,” DiStefano reminded District Attorney Don Cerio before he decided if releasing Lackey was all right with him.
Cerio agreed that releasing him was fine and did not ask for any bail. But did ask that the release be supervised and that the judge sign a temporary order of protection for the alleged victim.
Lackey is to have no contact with her. And even though he has spent three years of his life in prison, he has no hard feelings for her.
“I don’t even know her so it’s hard to say anything,” he said. “I think she knows the truth-wish she would come forward.”
Stephen agrees with his son.
“We harbor no bad feelings toward her, she’s got enough problems of her own,” he said. The woman insists she falsely reported the Oswego County incident because she blacked out. The injuries she sustained were at her own hand but she couldn’t imagine having injured herself.
In her 2004 statement to police she admitted to hearing voices and during the hearing last week she admitted to having attempted suicide more than once.
According to notes from her doctor, her mental state has been unstable for a years causing her to be on various anti-depressants including Prozac, Klonopin and Vistaril.
“I want the truth. Everyone seemed to want to avoid the truth, I don’t think that’s right. I wish the young lady would come forward-this would be all over,” Stephen Lackey said.
Dan Lackey is glad to be out of prison though he was overwhelmed by all that happened Thursday.
“I don’t have chains on anymore. I feel free,” he said.
“He didn’t even know why he was coming today,” Rose said. “Dan’s had problems with irregular heartbeat-he came from a medical facility and is walking out of here a free man.”
Dan Lackey said prison life wasn’t easy for him.
“I would tell them I’m innocent and they wouldn’t believe me,” he said, adding that the disbelief of other prisoners sometimes caused fights. “Everything came so fast, it’s like I was numb. You don’t think you’re really there, it’s like you’re in a dream because you’re behind a big brick wall.”
But Lackey may not be completely free. The judge’s decision didn’t clear him of the charges, it returned to where he was before the trial.
The district attorney has 60 days to decide whether to retry the case, dismiss the charges or appeal the judge’s decision.
Rose doesn’t think a retrial would go anywhere. He explained that there was no DNA evidence in the 2004 trial. And he doesn’t think Lackey will go back to jail even if the DA decides to appeal the judge’s decision.
“I don’t think an appellate judge is going to put him back in jail pending an appeal – Dan is likely to remain free,” he said.
Stephen Lackey expressed gratitude to the judge and to supporters of Dan’s Defense Fund. He said people in the community donated thousands of dollars to help cover the legal expenses the family incurred.
“We had a can on the counter,” the father said. He owns Seneca Trail Garden Center on Route 5 in Wampsville.
Dan Lackey plans on moving back in with his dad in Canastota and his dad is happy to have him home.
“I’m all choked up – it’s surreal,” Stephen said. “It was a long battle.”
“You keep your emotions bottled up,” he said. “It’s over and all those emotions; all the anger, all the love – just flows out.”
©The Oneida Daily Dispatch 2007