Decision of Conviction Integrity Unit Leaves Many Questions Unanswered

Jon-Adrian Velazquez has received more attention than most inmates who claim innocence. He’s served more than fourteen years of a 25-years-to-life sentence in prison after being convicted of the shooting of retired New York City police officer Albert Ward during a hold-up at an illegal betting parlor allegedly operated by Ward. The case prompted many lingering questions, but an 18-month official review has apparently not provided a broader consensus that justice has been served, nor that a new review initiative will be effective in addressing possible wrongful convictions.

Velazquez was identified by several witnesses in a lineup although he didn’t resemble the description provided by witnesses shortly after the crime. In an NBC “Dateline” segment, two witnesses expressed doubts about their selection; one recanted but later reversed again.

The inmate won support from Actor Martin Sheen, which raised the profile of the case. Sheen continues to work for his exoneration.

Velazquez’s case was accepted for review by the then newly-formed Conviction Integrity Unit established by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. In fact, a post on this blog on February 14, 2012 (here) looked forward to the potential of the Conviction Integrity Unit to review innocence claims in worthy cases such as this one. Vance’s concept establishes the original assistant prosecutor as the first to review the case to determine whether or not it should be accepted for further investigation by the Conviction Integrity Unit. When Velazquez’s case survived this hurdle, many felt it would become a good test for Vance’s initiative.

Among many questions in this case was the unexplained inconsistency between the description by the witnesses shortly after the crime and the man selected in the lineup. Were witnesses pressured to identify Velasquez? How compromised were the witnesses at the time they made the identification? What was the relationship between Velazquez and Derry Daniels, who pleaded guilty and said Velasquez was his accomplice? Velazquez said he never met Daniels, a man with a significant criminal record.

After its 18-month investigation, the DA’s office has reported that the Conviction Integrity Unit found no evidence sufficient to recommend vacating Velazquez’s verdict.

Not surprisingly, the decision was not well received by Velazquez’s lawyers. According to an NBC report (here), one of them, Robert Gottlieb called the investigation “a joke and a farce.”  Gottlieb, who served on Vance’s transition team in 2010, gave a scathing review of the effort. “The conviction integrity unit is nothing more than a conviction protection racket,” he told NBC News.

Gottlieb was present at the Conviction Integrity Unit’s interviews of witnesses and said that they were “treated like criminals” and their accounts were discounted.

Erin Dougan, spokeswoman for the DA’s office countered to NBC that the investigation included “interviewing many witnesses and conducting an in-depth review of documentary and physical evidence from a range of sources.”

The witnesses interviewed, however, did not include Velazquez’s mother and girlfriend at the time, who had testified under oath that Velazquez was talking with them on the phone at the time of the crime.

Unfortunately, if the investigation found answers to the questions surrounding this case, they were not shared publicly or with Velazquez’s lawyers, who will pursue a court motion to vacate his convictions.

Meanwhile the Wall Street Journal reported (here) that Blind Justice, a non-profit  advocacy group, will run ads calling for conviction integrity with a message featuring the Velazquez case. The 30-second ad can be viewed (here).

The test of the effectiveness of a new program such as DA Vance’s Conviction Integrity Unit is not determined by whether or not a conviction is overturned per se. Ideally, however, all sides should be satisfied that the review was comprehensive enough to support and provide credibility to the resulting decision. An important step toward establishing public confidence in the Velazquez decision would be to share what the investigation revealed about the longstanding troubling questions in the case.

The outcome of the Conviction Integrity Unit’s investigation unfortunately leaves many questions still unanswered, not only about the Velazquez case but also about the authenticity of the Conviction Integrity Unit itself.

3 responses to “Decision of Conviction Integrity Unit Leaves Many Questions Unanswered

  1. Frederick Alexander Jones

    As a former new york city police officer and correction officer who had arrested many law enforcement officers and other criminals, I could never find the integrity. The DA says his people can not find the absence of it. May I introduce the problem. The defense attorneys (especially for indigent defendants) do participate in frauds upon the court. While the fate of their clients had already been determined, during some horse trading in the judges chambers, the suppressing court reporter, the judge, the DA and the defense attorney do routinely conspire to deprive innocent citizens of fundamental due process rights. Indeed, lawyers are a powerful group that vouch for themselves at every opportunity. I have a well researched and routine lynching case on paper and before the new york district attorney’s Conviction Integrity Program, currently (26 Sept. 2013). It is very plainly a meritorious complaint and coram nobis motion that will be suppressed in the hideous darkness of routine judicial intrigues. Moreover, as the appropriate statutes (criminal civil rights laws, sect.s 18 USC 241,242) have been in very scandalous disuse for many decades, the aforesaid old posers (lawyers) enjoy being the vey worst type of criminals. Unlike the innocent poor, they never even consider being suspected of any kind of crime.

  2. A 34 year old man is incarcerated for a crime that he did not commit. The person who did commit the crime is also in prison. A man named Omar Clark was murdered 11 years ago on Englewood in Cleveland, Ohio. Cordell Hubbard who committed the crime in self defense, signed an affidavit confessing also stating that Ru-El Sailor, innocent, was not present. When the crime was investigated, reports state that there were two “light skinned” males present. The shooter is light skinned. Ru-El however, is not. The victims own brother (Umar Clark) signed an affidavit stating that William Sizemore (2nd light skinned male), the man who was present the night of the crime, confessed to him before he was to move out of state what happened that night. William Sizemore stated he was with Cordell Hubbard when the shooting occurred and that he tried to stop the crime from happening. Ru-El was not present. The charges against Ru-El contradict the original statements and testimony. Ru-El’s conviction was based on unreliable witnesses such as a known drug user (Clark Lamar aka Clark Williams) who stated he had been using PCP the day of the crime, and a man who claims he (Larry Braxton) witnessed the crime hiding on his porch on Englewood at night with very few street lights. Not even Clark Lamar, standing right next to the victim could identify Ru-El. It wasn’t until the pressure was on Cleveland Police to find the murderer, that statements were changed and witnesses later identified Ru-El. I am asking for help in setting Ru-El free, to expose the truth in this case and force the CPD to take responsibility for a botched investigation. This conviction was based on witnesses who were questioned by not a Homicide detective but a Vice detective with a vendetta against Cordell and Ru-El. No DNA or physical evidence, only testimony alone. Kimberly Kendall; attorney representing Ru-El, also very involved in Ru-El’s favor is Tom Pavlish private investigator and Polygraph examiner Bill Evans. Please let me know if you are interested in hearing the details of the case, viewing the affidavits from the shooter and witnesses, also polygraph results from Ru-El and Cordell. It is clear from reading the transcripts that an innocent man was convicted for a crime that he did not commit. Please help in freeing an innocent man.

  3. Jerome D.O'Rourke

    My name is Jerome D. O’ROURKE, I’m a retired police officer and former owner and builder of LaMarina restaurant and Dyckman Marina. I was wrongly arrested and imprisoned on false charges of conspiracy. I had 8 co-defendants and only knew 1, Ricardo Vasquez, who has signed a letter of recantment. I have asked the conviction review unit to review my wrongful arrest. I sent letters to DA Cyrus Vance, US attorney general Preet Bharara and NYS attorney general Eric Schneiderman. They got my letter and additional information proving my innocence on or about May 7,2016. To date , I have only gotten a response from Mr.Schneiderman’s conviction review unit, stating he couldn’t intervene in my case, but was forwarding my letter of requests to Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance. To date I still haven’t even gotten an acknowledgement from his office. Can you help me, I can not afford an attorney. I would be happy to provide you with all of my evidence. Thank you for your time. Jerry

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