New York Taxpayers to Pay $9 Million in Wrongful Conviction Settlement

New York City, its Housing Authority, and the State of New York have agreed to pay $9 million to Danny Colon, 50, and Anthony Ortiz, 44. Both men spent 16 years in prison before their convictions in a 1989 double murder — a drive-by shooting — were overturned in 2009.

The New York Court of Appeals reversed an earlier Appellate court decision and ordered a new trial for the men after finding that the Manhattan prosecutor had knowingly utilized false testimony from a key witness, a felon and drug dealer. The prosecutor denied in her final argument to the jury that the witness had been compensated for his testimony, but he subsequently received a lenient sentence in a drug charge and assistance from the prosecutor in relocating his grandmother, benefits withheld from the defense in the murder case.

According to the case report on Danny Colon at the National Registry of Exonerations (here), the key witness recanted his testimony in 2003. With this new information, Colon engaged attorney Joel B. Rudin, whose investigation revealed more potentially exculpatory evidence not shared with the defense.  Following the Court of Appeal’s decision, Colon and Ortiz were released on bond on March 30, 2010. The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office dismissed charges on June 29, 2011.

The New York Times reported that Colon has been employed as an electrician and Ortiz has been working as a personal trainer.

A spate of wrongful convictions and settlements in Brooklyn have prompted closer scrutiny of illegal tactics and official misconduct that resulted in tainted and wrongful convictions.

Rudin, lawyer for Colon and Ortiz, noted in The New York Times article:

“This case demonstrates that the illegal tactics used by New York City detectives and prosecutors to bring about so many wrongful convictions during the ‘drug wars’ of the late 1980s and 1990s were not limited to Brooklyn. The same tactics were used in Manhattan.”

Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth P. Thompson has engaged a Conviction Review Unit to investigate questionable convictions, which has resulted in the clearing of convictions in ten cases to date. Rudin urged New York County District Attorney Cyrus Vance, Jr. to follow a similar course of action in Manhattan.

Read The New York Times article here.

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