The innocence projects, aided by DNA evidence, have obtained the release of hundreds of prisoners who were unfairly and improperly jailed for crimes they did not commit. Exonerated prisoners have been released over the years in all states, including in New York. The interjection of a fresh and focused criminal defense and investigation into these cases has proved that the criminal justice system in America is flawed and not infallible.
Furthermore, the dehumanizing treatment in our prisons places a moral burden on society to compensate those who have been unfairly imprisoned, in addition to finding ways to prevent such calamities in the future. One prosecutorial mishap recently discovered involves the New York State prosecution of a 20-year-old man for the murder of a 16-year-old boy that he most likely did not commit. The defendant, now 40, was recently released from prison after spending the last 20 years of his life incarcerated.
The shocking aspect of this story is that the defendant told his criminal defense attorneys that he was in Florida when the Bronx murder occurred in 1996. He gave them a list of 13 witnesses who could verify his presence in Florida, but police did not bother to investigate. His defense lawyers did put on the testimony of the couple that he was staying with, but they were attacked by the prosecutor as being prejudiced in favor of the defendant.
The conviction was based on two witnesses identifying the defendant from a book of photos. However, that method of identification is known by lawyers to be filled with the potential for abuse and unreliability. No physical or forensic evidence tied the defendant into the crime.
A New York court recently released the man without bond and vacated his conviction. The man thanked his new criminal defense attorneys and said that he and his family did not deserve the intense suffering that they experienced. The prosecuting authorities now recognize that he did not receive a fair trial. They are currently investigating the crime for other leads.
Source: New York Post, “He had 13 alibi witnesses but he still spent 20 years in prison“, Kevin Fasick and Laura Italiano, March 23, 2016