“My name is Alan Crotzer and I spent the last 24 years, six months and 13 days in prison for a crime I did not commit. I was inmate 069010, a number I will never forget,” Alan Crotzer said, Friday in the Perry Paige Auditorium.
Friday marked the 61st day of freedom for Crotzer, who was wrongfully convicted in 1981 for robbery and two rapes in Tampa. Crotzer was exonerated by DNA evidence and released Jan. 23 from the Polk Correctional Institution in Polk City.
The panel discussion titled “Locked Up: An In Depth Look into Those Who Are Innocent Even After Being Proven Guilty,” was sponsored by the Florida A&M University Chapter of NAACP’s Political Action Committee.
Panelists included Sam Roberts, a third year law student at Fordham University; Jenny Greensburg, a local lawyer and director of the Florida Innocence Initiative; Jeff Walsh, a criminal defense investigator; and Alan Crotzer. Each panelist held a significant role in Crotzer’s exoneration.
“I do believe in God, and he took care of me,” Crotzer said. “I didn’t die.” Crotzer also said his faith helped him remain sane under crazy circumstances. “I could never be that monster they wanted me to be.”
Crotzer, who always proclaimed his innocence, said he came to spread a message of encouragement.
“I don’t know what you were expecting, but this is me,” said Crotzer, as he stood up from his chair. “I came here to encourage. There are some good men out here, but they just need someone to spark their lives. When I see a young person, I just talk to them and tell them to be encouraged and make all the right decisions.”
The Innocence Project is a non-profit clinic that works to exonerate the wrongfully accused through post-conviction DNA testing. Three years after Crotzer wrote to the Innocence Project in New York, he was freed.
Crotzer’s case was a mistaken eyewitness conviction. A victim chose Crotzer out of a photo lineup and from there “things snowballed very quickly,” said Sam Roberts, who volunteered with the Innocence Project.
“Crotzer didn’t even know the victims. I came across a letter that professed his innocence,” Roberts said. “Back then, the Innocence Project would receive 500-1,000 letters a week from inmates who professed their innocence.”
Crotzer said when he was released from prison the first thing he wanted to do was eat a pork chop and take a bath.
“I had overwhelming support in my community; someone brought me a car and I got a job.” On the other hand, Crotzer said he was surprised to see “how crack cocaine has affected my community. Now, the grass doesn’t even grow where I’m from.”
Current and former FAMU students were moved by Crotzer’s chronicle.
“It was something we needed to hear, it was a true testimony,” said Louis Andrews, 20, a criminal justice student from Miami. “It just shows how the justice system is very biased. We should look at this as a lesson.”
Alumna Debrechea Hopkins, 23, from Cocoa, said she was inspired by the fact that Crotzer never gave up.
“This is a case where race was a factor,” criminal defense investigator Jeff Walsh said. Walsh added that Crotzer’s alibi was completely ignored and the all-white jury had no remorse.
“Alan Crotzer has taught me, and I’ve gained so much insight in my life,” added Walsh.
Crotzer is seeking compensation from the state but understands the challenge.
“They can, but they don’t want to do anything for me,” Crotzer said. “It’s a fight.”
Jenny Greensburg, a local lawyer agrees. “Florida has a shameful reputation of compensating people who were wrongfully convicted. There are so many barriers.”
Crotzer said he spends as much time as he can with his 29-year-old daughter and two grandchildren. Crotzer, who resides in St. Petersburg, is a janitor at a local hospital.
“I’ve been thinking about pursuing my education in the field of radiology,” he said.
“I’m blessed to be out, and I will keep moving forward.
Contact Mia Small at firstname.lastname@example.org