After serving 24 years, six months and 13 days behind bars, Alan Crotzer was released from prison for a crime he did not commit.
On Nov. 7, Crotzer, a native of St. Petersburg, spoke to students about his wrongful incarceration that lasted more than two decades.
“The system completely failed me,” Crotzer said as he spoke to a class of students in Tucker Hall.
On July 10 1981, Crotzer was arrested and by that afternoon, faced 10 felony charges.
Despite at least five alibi witnesses that testified on his behalf, and not meeting witness descriptions, he was identified as the third assailant in a rape and robbery case.
Several months later he was sentenced to 130 years in prison with no chance of parole.
Crotzer was charged with two counts of rape, two counts of kidnapping, four counts of armed robbery, one count of attempted robbery, one count of assault and battery and one count of burglary.
“At times I would question my own sanity for not going crazy and losing my mind during my ordeal,” Crotzer said.
Crotzer said he was able to keep his faith by the support given to him by his now deceased mother.
He was not able to speak with a mental health professional in prison due to regulations that stated an inmate could not visit a psychologist until they were within 5 years of being released.
Early in 2001, he began writing to organizations asking for help about the situation.
Crotzer contacted the NAACP, American Civil Liberties Union and numerous preachers that were members of the Congress of National Black Churches and all went unanswered.
His answer came when the Innocence Project of New York, which is a national litigation and public policy organization, sent word they believed in Crotzer’s innocence and offered to work on his case until he was exonerated.
In 2003, IP lawyers began to comb the Florida court system for left over DNA evidence from this case, much of which had long been destroyed.
With a little luck and help from Sam Roberts, an IP volunteer at that time, and five slides of DNA evidence that were found in a Tampa courthouse and sent for testing.
Although the process took three years, in 2006, Crotzer was exonerated on all charges and released from prison.
He recalled his initial thoughts after being released.
“Things had changed so much,” Crotzer said. “It felt like my whole world was gone.”
He said he’s working to become a part of the system to help make positive changes in the future.
“Complaining gets little or no results, so if you don’t like the way the system is ran get involved in it to change it,” Crotzer said.
Since his release, Crotzer has spoken to students, government groups and activists in order to ensure that injustices like these stop.
He currently has a bill being stalled by the senate that would pay him $1.25 million dollars for his wrongful imprisonment.
But the bill has failed in the last two sessions of the legislature. However Crotzer said he is optimistic that during the next session lawmakers will do the right thing.
He has since moved to Tallahassee due to the high crime rate of his hometown St. Peters burg.
The students that he spoke to said they enjoyed listening to Crotzer’s experience with the justice system.
Marline Daceus,18, a freshman civil engineering student from Orlando said she believes the state should compensate Crotzer because of all he lost during his incarceration.
“He missed his mother’s funeral because he was incarcerated for a crime he did not commit and for that the state owes him compensation,” Daceus said.