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Wrongfully accused Philadelphia man wins settlement

By Leigh Remizowski, CNN
  • Philadelphia is paying Eugene Robinson $85,000 for wrongful imprisonment
  • The mistake that left him behind bars and branded a sexual predator for more than a year
  • It turns out that the man police were really after shared the same first name with Robinson

(CNN) -- When police released the wrong mug shot after an alleged sexual assault in 2008, a Philadelphia man was forced to pay for a crime he didn't commit.

Now, the city will pay Eugene Robinson $85,000 for the snafu that left him behind bars and branded a sexual predator for more than a year when his photo was mistakenly printed in the "Week's Most Wanted" section of the Philadelphia Daily News for allegedly raping a woman at sword point.

Although Robinson, 60, originally demanded $150,000 for his wrongful arrest and imprisonment, he said Friday he's happy that the ordeal is over.

"It's not actually what I think should have been done, but it's all right," Robinson said of the March 30 settlement. "I'm not a greedy person. But it doesn't change the fact that I was falsely accused of something and nobody ever took the time out to check it out."

It all started in August 2008 when Robinson was on his way home from work as a plumber and his neighbors began telling him that the police were looking for him. When he saw his photo splashed across the newspaper alleging he was behind a rape at an address he didn't recognize, he turned to his sister and then to his local state senator for help.

"I broke down and started crying because I didn't know what to do," he said.

He turned himself in despite maintaining his innocence, assuming the confusion would be cleared up when police realized they had the wrong guy.

Instead, he was processed and shipped off to the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility, he said. He could not make bail, which was set at $100,000.

"The picture matched - that's all they needed," said Robinson's lawyer, Alan Denenberg. "And off he went into the system."

It turns out that the man police were really after shared the same first name with Robinson and that the incorrect mug shot was pulled when police put out an arrest warrant for the alleged assault, according to Philadelphia Chief City Solicitor Craig Straw.

"We knew that the potential suspect's name was Eugene and the initial investigation showed up Eugene Robinson," Straw said.

The actual suspect signed a statement in February 2008 after the incident occurred, said Denenberg. It included his name, his West Philadelphia address, social security number and the fact that he was married, Denenberg said. Robinson lived in North Philadelphia and had never been married.

Straw would not release the suspect's name, but confirmed that his last name was not Robinson. He was later found to be a DNA match to the alleged assault, he said.

Despite the fact that the men had little in common besides their first names, police did not catch the discrepancy and drop the charges until Robinson had been in jail for about five months.

Robinson was brought to Philadelphia's Criminal Justice Center three times while he was incarcerated, but was never given the chance to confront the victim or explain his side of the story, he said.

"I didn't feel like I had a voice," Robinson said.

But after he was released, Robinson was transferred to a jail in Bucks County for eight months because he had defaulted on restitution payments on a previous arrest for theft by deception while he was incarcerated, Denenberg said.

Now that he is out, Robinson said he is working to restore his reputation.

"Everybody looked at me different," he said. "It's different when you're accused of a heinous crime like that."

Denenberg, who didn't start working for Robinson until after his release, said it should not have taken so long to clear Robinson's name.

"(The police) have a heavy case load but sometimes when you're dealing with people's lives, you've got to take the extra step and look beneath the surface," he said.