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Law Tribune News - Cool Justice, Prison Memoirs Of An Innocent Man

Posted on May 13 2009

Lisa is a big deal in prison.

Waiting and longing for Lisa, inmate 103180 at the state jail in Cheshire called out to her: "Oh Princess Latrina of State I count the days a soiled death till your arrival. At last! Mi amor."

"Lisa" is the brand name for state-issued soap in Connecticut jails, where such commodities take on special meaning.

As inmate 103180, aka Michael Seri, pined for Lisa, he noticed it was 5 a.m. A bucket and mop rolled down the hallway. Keys clashed. Doors clashed. Locks clashed. Other inmates stumbled past Seri's bed. The harsh, jarring sounds drove Seri into an alternative universe: his mind. He stared at what he perceived above, a concrete moon, his ceiling, and thought, "Jesus snores in the next bunk."

There was a lot of new meaning for Michael Seri, who served six months in jail for a crime he did not commit. Seri had been wrongly accused - and wrongly convicted - of exposing himself and masturbating in front of a Girl Scout at the Newtown public library on March 13, 2001. This case is rife with police misconduct and denial. In this case, it was the cops who hindered prosecution of the real perpetrator and branded Seri with no justification.

Seri's crime was going to the library to study Greek tragedy. This can cause a lot of trouble under the watchful eye of the Newtown Police Department. I would not recommend it. On the other hand, real crime might not be a problem. This is the department that oversaw what became known as "Divorce, Connecticut Style," the murder and subsequent dispersal by wood chipper of flight attendant Helle Crafts. For about a year in the mid-1980s, the Newtown Police rejected offers by state police to investigate the killer, Richard Crafts. Finally, the state's attorney called in the state police and the case was solved.

The Newtown tradition of bungled police work and denial continued quite smoothly through the Seri case. Witnesses had described the actual pervert in the library as a Mexican-looking man with dark hair, but no facial hair.

Seri is white and balding with a goatee and prominent sideburns. The police affidavit for the Seri arrest warrant omitted accurate descriptions of the real perpetrator. It failed to note that none of the witnesses described the real perpetrator as balding or with a goatee and sideburns. The judge who issued the Seri arrest warrant was never told that fingerprints on seized books failed to match Seri's.

There's more. When a library page could not identify Seri as the perpetrator, officers allegedly threatened to arrest her unless she provided a better statement against Seri. The Newtown police refused a request from an FBI agent - Seri's uncle - to check those fingerprints against a national crime database. One print matched a convicted sexoffender who had already been arrested for public indecency at several libraries including Newtown's. This was the actual criminal. He has since been convicted and sentenced.

Seri, 45, is a poet and sculptor who also works as a carpenter and house painter. He is getting his groove back writing a book of poems about the jailhouse experience.

Newtown First Selectman Herb Rosenthal and Police Chief Michael Kehoe can't find anything wrong in this situation. They not only get the Ostrich Award, they also get a wrongful arrest suit. The suit, filed last month by Seri's lawyer, Paul Spinella of Hartford, is expected to move from state to federal court.

By ANDY THIBAULT
Columnist Law Tribune Newspapers
August 18, 2003