Daryl had been taken to Sing Sing, where everyone knew him as 99-A-1265. It’s stressful enough to be locked up in a maximum-security prison with some 2,200 other men, but to be serving time for raping your own daughter? “You’re disliked by everyone who’s committed every other kind of crime,” he says. “People don’t talk to you; they talk around you.” If anyone asked him about his case, he’d tell them, “I didn’t do it.” But, of course, he says, that’s “the familiar claim for 99 percent of the prison system.”
His mother had been the one who hired Greenwald to handle his appeal, and in the spring of 1999, Daryl called the lawyer one day and learned that his daughter had just visited his office. When Daryl heard that she had recanted her testimony, he shouted—“Hallellujah!”—and the phone fell from his hand.
His lawyer submitted paperwork to vacate the judgment, and seven months later, on October 21, 1999, Daryl was brought back to Judge DeRosa’s court-room for a hearing. This time, when Chaneya sat on the witness stand, she began weeping and mumbling, saying she’d lied earlier at his trial. Her grandmother testified, too, and said she’d heard a police officer promise Chaneya a bicycle if she “told the truth.”
At the hearing, Daryl was so confident he would be exonerated that he began picturing himself walking out the courthouse door. After the hearing ended, however, he was returned to prison, where he waited more than three months for DeRosa’s decision. When it finally arrived, Daryl hurried to his cell, envelope in hand, and read the judge’s assessment of Chaneya’s new testimony: “Not credible.” About her original story, which she’d repeated multiple times—at the clinic, before the grand jury, and at trial—he wrote, “To believe that it was all made up, rehearsed as a result of a threat of a beating by her mother, is just not plausible.” And he suggested that Chaneya’s mother had pressured her to recant her story because she wanted Daryl back home.
For months, Daryl had been clinging to the same fantasy: Any moment he would get called down to the warden’s office and be set free. But now that dream evaporated. Instead, he spent his days rereading the 1,239-page transcript of his trial and sentencing, searching for some detail that everyone else had overlooked, any fact that might provide tangible proof of his innocence. If he couldn’t find any answers, he knew he’d be stuck in prison until at least 2018, when he’d be eligible for parole. Even then there was no guarantee he’d get out; to win parole, a prisoner typically has to admit his guilt and express remorse.
By now his father had died. The only family he had left—aside from his mother, his wife, and his sister in Brooklyn—were his five children. He wasn’t permitted any contact with them, but he filed a motion in family court, and in the fall of 2001, four years after his arrest, a family-court judge granted him permission to write and call.
Whenever he had money for stamps, he sent an envelope to his mother-in-law with five separate letters enclosed, one for each child. Their responses poured in.
“Dear Daddy, I miss you a lot. Matter of fact we all miss and love you.”
“We was wondering if you was coming home this year. Mommy said you probably would.”
“You said you will be home soon. Isn’t the word ‘soon’ suppose to be in a few days. I can’t be waiting so long. Can’t you be home this year.”
“Come home please!”
“Are you still going to take us to Disneyland when you get out of jail?”
In the summer of 2002, he opened an envelope to find a letter from 13-year-old Chaneya, handwritten on lined notebook paper in bubbly print:
“Dear Daddy … I do feel bad about telling a lie. All I want to do is put it all behind. You want the truth I’ll tell you the truth … I guess Mommy was drunk or something, Mommy came in with the belt asking me ‘what did your father do to you?, what did he do?’ I said ‘nothing.’ She said ‘Tell me or I’ll beat you.’ So I didn’t want to get beat so I made up a lie that I’d take back any day … I feel guilty when I talk about it. I feel that I should be in prison instead of you. I Love You daddy and the love I have for you can never be changed. Everytime that I talk about it I think you and god both hate me …”
After her new testimony at her father’s hearing failed to persuade the judge to let him out of prison, Chaneya gave up on the idea of seeing him freed. What was the point? She’d spoken up and nobody believed her. Nothing had changed. Meanwhile, her grandmother’s home was so chaotic that there was no time to worry about the past. As Chaneya recalls, the mind-set was: “Okay, your dad is in prison; we’re not going to talk about it; go to school!”