New York Times Online

February 15, 2002

DNA Testing In Rape Case Frees
Prisoner After 15 Years


PHILADELPHIA, Feb. 14 Exonerated by DNA testing after 15 years in prison, Bruce Godschalk walked out of the Montgomery County Jail at 4:45 p.m. today, with less than $10 in his pocket, wearing a pair of old jeans, a T-shirt and no winter coat.

With tears in his eyes, Mr. Godschalk, 41, hugged his lawyer, David Rudovsky, and spoke to reporters. Then he and Mr. Rudovsky drove to Mr. Rudovsky's house, and Mr. Godschalk had his first beer in 15 years.

His freedom was "beyond words," Mr. Godschalk said in a telephone interview from the house.

In 1986, when he was 26, Mr. Godschalk was convicted of raping two women, who lived in the same housing complex and sent to prison for 10 to 20 years. For seven years the Montgomery County district attorney's office fought his efforts to obtain DNA testing. Last month, two laboratories, one retained by the prosecution, the other by the defense, found the same results: Both rapes were committed by the same man, and that man was not Bruce Godschalk.

The Montgomery County district attorney, Bruce L. Castor Jr., continued to resist Mr. Godschalk's release, saying that he believed the DNA testing was flawed and that he needed time to confirm the results. Today, after further testing did just that, he wrote to Judge S. Gerald Corso of Common Pleas Court suggesting that Mr. Godschalk be released immediately.

"I am not convinced that Bruce Godschalk is innocent," Mr. Castor said. "But I do not think there is sufficient evidence to convict him beyond a reasonable doubt, and in this business a tie goes to the defendant."

Mr. Godschalk was released on a wintry evening, but to him it might have been spring: "It's beautiful," he said. "I'm noticing colors. When you're confined, you don't see colors. You see the same color: gray."

At the time of his arrest, Mr. Godschalk was living with his parents in the Philadelphia suburbs and working for a landscaper. He had two prior arrests; for possession of marijuana and driving while impaired.

Six months after the two rapes, after studying Mr. Godschalk's picture in a mug shot array for more than an hour, one victim identified him as her rapist. The second victim could not make an identification. After several hours of interrogation, Mr. Godschalk made a confession that he later recanted. His motion to throw out the confession was denied in the trial.

Even after DNA testing exonerated Mr. Godschalk, Mr. Castor said today that he had "no reason to doubt the validity of his confession."

Mr. Castor said he would not reopen the investigation. "The victims do not want me to pursue it any further," he said.

While Mr. Godschalk was in prison, his sister, his only sibling; his father; and his mother all died. His mother left money in her will to pay for DNA testing. The tests cost about $10,000, said Barry Scheck, of the Innocence Project of the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York, which took on Mr. Godschalk's case after he wrote to them.

Mr. Godschalk said he had spent his time in prison reading novels, working in the prison laundry and writing rock 'n' roll songs that he performed in a prison band.

Hope kept him going, he said. "Knowing that one day I'll be free," he said. "You can confine the body, but you cannot confine the mind. You cannot confine the spirit. That's what kept me going: my family, my friends, love."

He said he was keenly aware that he was freed on Valentine's Day. "I had a wonderful girlfriend at the time," he said, referring to his life before prison. "I didn't want to hold onto her. I loved her so much that I didn't want to confine her as well."

Reflecting on his release, Mr. Godschalk, former inmate No. AY9638, said, "I'm not a number anymore."