Longform

Likely Suspect

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"I think a lot of my friends expected me to have some big emotional reaction to seeing the man who raped me sitting in the courtroom. Truth is, I didn't."

Not only did she tell her story in graphic detail, but other women Faison was charged with raping took the stand to relive their nightmares. Expert witnesses carefully explained that the DNA evidence linked Faison to Cotroneo's rape. Again he was convicted, this time to a life sentence.

The most dramatic moment in the proceedings came when Cotroneo was allowed to make a victim's statement at the end of the punishment phase of the trial. Even now, she remembers it verbatim:

"When you raped me," she said as she faced Faison, "you took a piece of my soul with you, a piece that I've been grieving for and missing and wandering around without for two years. As I stand here, looking into your eyes, I take it back."

She remembers that he seemed to deflate in front of her. "I told him I could see him shrinking."

As she reflects on the moment, she insists that testifying against Faison was never a "personal" thing, rather just a means to assure that he was denied the power to ever again harm a woman. "I didn't know him; he didn't know me. Do I hate him? No, I don't have time for that."

Nor, she says, did her focus narrow only on the man seated at the defense table. "I was aware that his mother was in the courtroom," she says, "and I felt so badly for her. Seeing her there, imagining what she must be feeling, was heartbreaking."

Many of those who had crowded into state District Judge Faith Johnson's courtroom in support of Faison or testified as character witnesses remain convinced he did not commit the crimes of which he was convicted. "I had visited him in jail shortly after he was arrested," recalls longtime community activist Chester Johnson, "and asked him point-blank if he was guilty. He told me he wasn't. I've known Gary since we were kids, and that kind of crime is not like him in any way."

The Reverend Doyce Wilson is Faison's minister at the Sweet Home Baptist Mission. He and Johnson are members of a Gary Faison support group that writes and visits him regularly. "I never felt that his lawyer really put on a defense," Wilson says. "Gary's told me many times that the Lord knows he's innocent."


Separated from his visitor by a glass partition at New Boston's Telford Unit, Faison is, for the first time, speaking out about his arrest and convictions. Pleasant and personable, he talks in a rapid-fire manner, aware that prison officials have allowed him only two hours to make his case that he is an innocent man.

Even in his white jumpsuit, it is obvious he's much fitter than he was before his incarceration. The 320 pounds have melted away to a trim, solid 210. "Today," he says, "I actually fit the description those women gave of the man who attacked them."

He talks only briefly of the grinding routine of prison life, of time spent reading and watching TV, writing letters, doing research in its law library and looking forward to the weekend visits from family and friends. Mainly, though, he tells of how he is an example of a black man who achieved a degree of success, only to "get knocked down for it." Again, he points out, he had "stepped out of bounds." "I was an ex-con who had developed himself into something."

Someday, Faison insists, he hopes to get it back, to prove he was not a night-stalking rapist, but there is little real optimism in his voice. Still, he makes points about some of the evidence against him: None of those he was accused of attacking was able to identify him, and most estimated his weight to be 100 pounds or more shy of what he actually weighed at the time. Nothing, he says--no fingerprints, hair or fibers--linked to him was ever found inside any of the victims' apartments.

It is obvious that he has prepared himself for the first interview he's given since his arrest. "At my first trial," he remembers, "I was numb. [The victim] testified that her attacker was wearing gloves. Yet, they found those partial prints on the door and the lock that were supposed to match mine. That was the only so-called evidence...and I got 90 years."

He shakes his head. "And she described the man who assaulted her as being 6 feet and 180 pounds. The prosecution obviously couldn't find anyone who remembered me when I weighed less than 300.

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Carlton Stowers
Contact: Carlton Stowers