A man who served nearly 16 years in prison for a murder he insists he did not commit has filed a $150 million wrongful conviction lawsuit in Brooklyn, with the district attorney facing intense scrutiny over allegations of misconduct.In fact, the district attorney’s office, in a rare move, admitted that the case had been “mishandled,” and conceded that the conviction should be tossed.
The federal judge who vacated the conviction shortly before the defendant was freed back in 2010 called the district attorney’s handling of the case “shameful.”
It’s difficult to put a price on 16 years of ones’ life, but such clear civil rights violations should unquestionably be compensated in some capacity. As one defense attorney noted, prosecutors are supposed to hit hard, but this “went far beyond.”
The case started with the tragic and brutal slaying of a hasidic rabbi landlord, who was gunned down while collecting rent in Brooklyn back in 1994.
A man named Jabbar Collins was arrested, tried and convicted.
But as it would later be revealed, prosecutors failed to turn over key evidence to the defense that would have pointed to exoneration.A key witness had recanted his testimony briefly before the trial, but this fact was never disclosed to the defense.The prosecutors were also accused of coercing witnesses into testifying, in at least one case by threatening physical violence and in another case by knowingly eliciting inaccurate testimony. The office is also accused of taking pains to thwart the defendant’s efforts to challenge the conviction over the years.
When he was first freed, the decision by the district attorney’s office not to re-try him meant that those officials who were accused of misconduct would not be required to testify at a habeas corpus hearing. The judge noted that it was beyond disappointing that the district attorney’s office persisted in its firm stance that it had done nothing wrong.
Now, this civil lawsuit seeks to address the injustice. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the district attorney’s office has been less-than-cooperative. In a deposition that lasted more than seven hours, the primary prosecutor in the case answered “I don’t recall” a total of 324 times. A number of those instances, according to news reports, involve questions regarding basic prosecutorial duties and functions of the office.
He claims that his failure to recollect even basic information is a result of passage of time, rather than any attempt to cover up misconduct.
Still, in light of this, the judge in the case agreed to extend the deposition questioning by three hours, though it’s unclear much more will come of it. He did concede during his questioning that a number of sworn affidavits that were reportedly signed by him in fact did not actually bear his signature. This could be a crime, but the prosecutor stopped short of saying that he had authorized anyone else to do so.
Next month, the lead district attorney is slated to undergo a deposition in the case. He is running for a seventh-term re-election this year, so it will be interesting to see how his testimony unfolds.
What happened in this case is extremely troubling. But what is even more disturbing is the pattern that this seems to indicate. Our New York civil rights lawyers find it difficult to believe that the culture that allowed these kinds of activities to go unpunished only affected this one case in Brooklyn. It seems only logical that problems stretched far beyond this case, and we expect to hear of other similar cases in the months and years to come.
The Law Offices of Ira S. Newman provides civil rights representation in New York City, Long Island, Great Neck and throughout the area. Call 516-487-7375 or send us an e-mail.
Less Than Total Recall, July 8, 2013, By Joe Sexton, ProPublica
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