Prosecutors block release of N.J. men whose murder convictions were tossed

Blind Injustice Chapter 2 Blind Denial. What happens when prosecutors cannot admit a mistake has been made?

By S.P., NJ Advance Media for

PATERSON — Ralph Lee, Sr. saw it as a test from God.

After 24 years waiting for his son’s release from prison, his prayers were about to be answered — until, suddenly, they weren’t.

Ralph Lee, Jr. and another Paterson man, Eric Kelley, were scheduled to be let out on bail Wednesday after a state Superior Court judge, citing DNA evidence raising doubts about their guilt, vacated their convictions.

But an eleventh-hour challenge from the Passaic County Prosecutor’s Office stalled Judge Joseph Portelli’s ruling that Kelley and Lee could be freed on $20,000 bail while awaiting new trials.

Lawyers from the Innocence Project and Centurion Ministries — two legal groups dedicated to freeing the wrongly convicted — called the move a cruel and unnecessary attempt to delay the inevitable.

Prosecutors contend DNA testing from a key piece of evidence, a hat found at the scene of the killing, doesn’t exonerate the pair. They say the two men should be treated like any other defendant facing fresh murder charges and held until trial.

“They don’t want to admit their error: that they have two innocent men in jail,” said Paul Casteleiro, Lee’s attorney.

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