Set Free in 1995 Killings, 3 Bronx Men File Suits Alleging PoliceMisconduct
By COLIN MOYNIHAN — Wednesday, March 12th, 2014 ‘The New York Times’
Three Bronx men who were set free last year after spending nearly 18 years in prison for two murders they say they did not commit are suing New York City and the two lead police detectives on the case, accusing them of deliberately using tainted or false evidence.
The lawsuits, filed in Federal District Court in Manhattan on Tuesday, stem from the 1995 murders of a Federal Express executive, Denise Raymond, and a cabdriver, Baithe Diop. The killings, which took place in the Soundview neighborhood in the Bronx three days apart, were thought to be related.
Seven people were indicted in the two murders and six were convicted. But the convictions began to come apart in 2012, when an investigator with the United States attorney’s office in Manhattan obtained confessions from two former gang members who said they had killed Mr. Diop. In 2013, the Bronx district attorney’s office acknowledged problems with evidence used to tie defendants to the murder of Ms. Raymond. The indictments in both cases were vacated, and those imprisoned were freed.
The lawsuits claim that the detectives, Michael Donnelly and Thomas Aiello,improperly conducted identifications of suspects, coerced false statements from witnesses, provided nonpublic details to witnesses to bolster false accounts, failed to follow up on leads and hid evidence. The suits also cite a key prosecution witness who later recanted.
“When you’re innocent and you’re in prison knowing that you didn’t commit this crime, the pain is double,” said Carlos Perez, who, along with Michael Cosme and Devon Ayers, filed the lawsuits against the city. “It hurt me emotionally, it hurt me psychologically; many times I cried.”
A spokesman for the Police Department did not reply to a request for comment. Spokesmen for the New York City Law Department and the Bronx district attorney’s office declined to comment, with the district attorney’s office citing the pending litigation.
Similar suits were filed recently by Cathy Watkins and Eric Glisson, who were also convicted of killing Mr. Diop, and were freed in 2012; and by the estate of Israel Vasquez, who was convicted of killing Ms. Raymond but freed in 2007 by an appeals panel. City lawyers asked a judge to dismiss the Vasquez case last year, rejecting all assertions of wrongdoing by the detectives and saying that the witness’s recantation was not credible.
Mr. Perez’s lawsuit states that Detectives Donnelly and Aiello ignored certain leads. For instance, the suit asserts, the detectives did not interview a man who had pawned a bracelet bearing Ms. Raymond’s initials. And, the suit said, they did not pursue records from Mr. Diop’s cellphone, which had been stolen after his killing and used to call an apartment where the men who later admitted killing him, Jose Rodriguez and Gilbert Vega, were living.
That failure left the two “free to continue committing violent crimes in the Bronx for years,” the suit says, adding that Mr. Rodriguez had been involved in a shooting in 1997 that killed two people during a Thanksgiving football game between residents of two public housing complexes.
“This case is particularly egregious,” said Elizabeth Saylor, a lawyer at the firm Emery Celli Brinckerhoff and Abady, which is representing Mr. Perez, Mr. Cosme and the estate of Mr. Vasquez. “Six people were incarcerated for 100 years in this case because of the detectives’ misconduct.”
Because no physical evidence linked any defendant to either killing, the prosecution relied heavily on witnesses.Among them was Kim Alexander, who testified that she had seen another man, Charles McKinnon, arguing with Ms. Raymond as she left work the day before she was killed.
Detective Aiello picked up security video tapes from the building where Ms. Raymond worked, then wrote in a report that he had viewed the material “with negative results,” causing a prosecutor to state in court that there was “nothing” on the tapes.
Later, however, it turned out that a tape showed Ms. Raymond but not Mr. McKinnon, undermining the prosecution’s contention that an argument between the two had led to a murder plot. Judge William C. Donnino said that the failure to turn over the tape was “serious,” adding that it contained “evidence that is arguably favorable to the defense.”
Another prosecution witness was Cathy Gomez, a teenager who could not read or write English. In 1995, Ms. Gomez signed a detailed statement that provided a basis for later courtroom testimony saying that Mr. Cosme had displayed a silver-colored revolver, given her a blow-by-blow account of killing Mr. Diop, then shown her a phone that he said had come from Mr. Diop’s car. But in 2012 Ms.
Gomez said that Detective Donnelly had written the statement and that she had signed it without knowing what it said. “Nothing’s true in there,” she told a lawyer representing Mr. Glisson, according to a transcript of a videotaped interview.
Mr. Perez has always maintained his innocence.“This whole case was fabricated,” he told Judge Donnino. “I’ve been framed by a ruthless crooked homicide cop.”