Alan Newton, a 49-year-old black man from the South Bronx, who spent over two decades in prison for a sexual assault he did not commit, has been awarded nearly $18.6 million in damages by a jury in New York City.

While awarding Newton the damages, the jury in the Federal District Court in Manhattan noted that critical criminal evidence was mishandled, thus violating his constitutional rights and leading to a wrongful rape conviction. The jury also found two police officers liable for intentional infliction of emotional distress for failing to produce Newton's evidence when requested.

Alan Newton, who was sentenced on rape, robbery, and assault charges, was exonerated from prison in 2006, after a post-conviction DNA testing proved that he was not the perpetrator of this crime.

The crime took place on June 23, 1984. A 25-year-old victim kidnapped and raped. The perpetrator cut the victim's face with a razor, blinding her in the left eye, so that she could not identify her assailant, Innocence Project reports.

From the beginning, Newton maintained his innocence and presented an alibi defense. In May 1985, Newton was acquitted of all charges stemming from an incident in the park, but was convicted of the charges related to the victim’s attack in an abandoned building.

Newton first requested post-conviction DNA analysis on August 16, 1994, but the court denied his request citing that the evidence could not be located.

In 2005, on the request of the Innocence Project, the Bronx County District Attorney’s Office asked the Property Clerk Division to initiate a search for the victim’s rape kit, despite claims made by officials at the Property Clerk's Office over the course of eleven years that the kit could not be located and presumably destroyed.

Later, the same year, the rape kit was found in a Police Department warehouse in Queens and was submitted to the New York City Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (OCME), Department of Forensic Biology. The evidence was split to enable replicate testing by an independent laboratory.

New reference samples were collected from Newton and both FSA and the OCME generated Newton's DNA profile from them to compare with the crime scene evidence. The DNA testing conclusively excluded Newton as the source of the spermatozoa recovered from the victim immediately after the rape.

Until now, the actual perpetrator has not been caught. The woman (victim) died in 1991, and so she never knew that the wrong man had been locked up.

Upon his 2006 release, Newton was awarded a full scholarship by Thurgood Marshall Scholarship Fund, Inc, to enroll into Medgar Evers College. Newton completed his studies in two years and is now working full-time at the City University of New York's Black Male Initiative, which focuses on recruiting, retaining and assisting black men in college.

Newton, who turns 50 next August, plans on getting admitted to a law school in fall 2011 and hopes to do public interest work, helping to prevent people in poor neighborhoods from suffering the fate that he did.

Meanwhile, a spokeswoman for the city's Law Department said the city was disappointed with the verdict and planned to appeal it.

Newton's attorney John Schutty has criticized the city's plan to appeal, saying it not only showed a reckless disregard for his constitutional rights but also is constantly putting off giving him relief.