Man Convicted of Murder in 1993 Is Ordered Released After Key Evidence Was Withheld
A man who had been convicted of murder was ordered released on Monday after 24 years of incarceration, after the Brooklyn district attorney admitted his office had withheld key evidence in the case against the man, Ruddy Quezada.
The conviction was vacated after a search of records, prompted by Mr. Quezada’s latest legal challenge, found that prosecutors concealed information from him as he was seeking to have his conviction reversed.
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Mr. Quezada, 53, is one of several men to have a conviction vacated in State Supreme Court in Brooklyn since early 2014. The office of the district attorney, Kenneth P. Thompson, has been reviewing dozens of convictions under his long-serving predecessor, Charles J. Hynes, and defendants are also challenging old convictions in court.
Some men have been released because it seems unlikely or impossible they committed the crimes they were convicted of. In the case of Mr. Quezada, prosecutors still believe he had a role in the killing, but agree that his due-process rights were violated when the office did not turn over evidence.
“We think the process was fine during the trial, but not during post-conviction,” Oren Yaniv, a spokesman for the district attorney, said.
It is yet another blow to the work of the office under Mr. Hynes, who was the Brooklyn district attorney for 23 years before losing the elected position to Mr. Thompson in 2013.
The issue was whether a witness in the 1993 trial had come forward on his own, as the prosecution claimed, or whether prosecutors had used a material-witness order to detain the witness in a hotel room until he agreed to testify. During the trial, and in post-conviction arguments in the early to mid-2000s, prosecutors denied there was any such order. But there was, and in recent days it emerged that the prosecution had known about the order even as it asserted otherwise.
The discovery of a 2004 email acknowledging the material-witness order led prosecutors to abandon their defense of the conviction, a prosecutor, Matthew Stewart, said in court on Monday.
In a statement, Mr. Thompson said: “Due to what we have uncovered, we will not continue with the hearing because to do so would be unfair to Mr. Quezada. Since we can’t try this case, we will no longer object to his release.”
Justice Ruth Shillingford of State Supreme Court in Brooklyn said Mr. Quezada should “be released immediately.”
After the hearing, Mr. Quezada’s lawyer, David B. Shanies of Hughes, Hubbard & Reed, called Mr. Quezada, who was at Rikers Island. He and his fellow defense lawyers, Sarah L. Cave and Erin Diers, held a suit for Mr. Quezada to wear when he walked out. “Inmediatamente,” Mr. Shanies said. “Vamos.”
Mr. Quezada was accused of killing José Rosado in a drive-by shooting in the East New York neighborhood in 1991, and was arrested after two men told the police he had done it. The prosecution’s theory was that it was a drug-related hit. Mr. Quezada was convicted of murder in 1993.
As Mr. Quezada’s trial approached, one of the men who spoke to the police was killed. The other, Sixto Salcedo, was refusing to help prosecutors and was unresponsive to a subpoena. After a request from a prosecutor, the trial judge issued a warrant for Mr. Salcedo’s arrest, requiring he be brought to court to testify, according to a motion from Mr. Quezada’s lawyers.
Arrested by investigators for the district attorney’s office, Mr. Salcedo was held overnight at a hotel near La Guardia Airport, then taken to court to testify against Mr. Quezada. He “testified that he saw Mr. Quezada’s face and identified him as the shooter,” Mr. Quezada’s lawyers wrote.
He was the only witness to the murder who spoke at the trial. Mr. Quezada claimed he was in a nearby building with three friends, who testified on his behalf, when the murder occurred.
Lawyers from both sides focused on Mr. Salcedo’s credibility at trial, with the prosecutor, Ephraim Shaban, saying he “came forward” to testify.
Mr. Quezada was sentenced to 25 years to life.
Mr. Quezada’s lawyers now say that another man, a “drug-gang hit man” named Freddy Caraballo, committed the murder. The lawyers cited statements Mr. Caraballo had given the police in 1999, saying that Mr. Quezada “was arrested for it but he did not pull the trigger,” and that Mr. Quezada “had paid” to have the target killed. (Called to testify at a 2004 hearing in Mr. Quezada’s case, Mr. Caraballo invoked his Fifth Amendment right not to testify.)
In 2001, Mr. Salcedo signed an affidavit contradicting the testimony that he had seen Mr. Quezada shoot Mr. Rosado.
In 2003, Mr. Quezada filed a motion asking that his conviction be vacated.
In a hearing in 2006, Mr. Salcedo said he saw the shots but could not see who was firing the weapon. He also said that a detective threatened to put him in prison for 10 years unless he testified against Mr. Quezada, and that he was kept “in a hotel at all times” except to go to court or to meet with prosecutors and the police, according to Mr. Quezada’s lawyers.
Prosecutors maintained there was no material-witness order for Mr. Salcedo, and wrote in a filing that that “calls into question the truthfulness of his entire recantation.”
The court denied Mr. Quezada’s motion.
However, on Friday, Mr. Thompson’s office alerted Mr. Quezada’s lawyers that they had found an email. Sent in December 2004, the email was from one of the prosecutors handling Mr. Quezada’s post-conviction motion, Marie-Claude Wrenn.
“I found a material witness order for Salcedo, who was too scared to testify, in the files. I put it on your desk,” she wrote to her boss.
That meant that Ms. Wrenn, who was not the trial prosecutor but worked on the post-conviction motion, was presumably aware of the order before that 2006 hearing at which her office claimed there was no such order.
Ms. Wrenn did not respond to an emailed request for comment. Mr. Yaniv, the district attorney’s spokesman, said on Monday that “as of today, she no longer works in this office.
We need to hold people personally responsible for these types of deliberate acts causing people to be imprisoned. He may have been involved but the ends do not justify the means. This is not due process, This is as bad as the Salem witch hunts.