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Parole delayed for man challenging rape conviction

The Star-Ledger (Newark, New Jersey)
BYLINE: Alexi Friedman, Star-ledger staff

Newark, HJ

A recently discovered error by the state has pushed back the parole date for a Newark man who has spent 22 years in prison for rape, but who contends missing DNA evidence can prove his innocence.

Stephen Brooks was scheduled to be paroled on Feb. 28 from East Jersey State Prison but that has been changed to Aug. 7, more than five months later, said Neal Buccino, a spokesman for the State Parole Board.

A review found the State Parole Board gave Brooks too many jail credits, Buccino said. "The previous date reflected an incorrect calculation," he said.

The credits refer to the number of days Brooks spent in jail from his arrest in August 1985 for raping an East Orange woman up to Sept. 11, 1987, when he was sentenced to 50 years in state prison for the crime.

That sentence has been reduced for good behavior.

Brooks, 52, has been approved for the August parole date "pending any new information the board may receive," Buccino said, which could include a statement from the rape victim, who still lives in New Jersey.

The woman has said she would strongly oppose Brooks' early parole application. A call to her home was not returned yesterday. When he is paroled, Brooks will move to an undisclosed residential facility, where he must spend a minimum of 90 days, Buccino said.

Brooks' maximum release date -- when he is freed entirely -- has also been pushed back to Jan. 9, 2011, from October 2010. Because of his rape conviction, he will become a registered sex offender. Brooks continues to fight his rape conviction on the grounds that DNA evidence collected but never tested will clear his name.

He is being represented by the Innocence Project, which won a ruling in August in Superior Court in Newark that ordered East Orange police to conduct a thorough search for the missing evidence.

Nothing was found, but Vanessa Potkin, staff attorney for the Innocence Project, said she has been in touch with the court to request a similar search of the Essex County Prosecutor's Office. "So far, there is no accounting of what happened to that evidence," Potkin said.

The prosecutor's office maintains it sent the evidence back to East Orange police long ago.

Regarding the confusion over Brooks' parole, Potkin said the state has now taken away too many jail credits he had rightly earned.

"It just shows how the system can be in such disarray," she said.

Alexi Friedman may be reached at (973) 642-0341 or

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