A man who spent 15 years in prison on a New York City murder conviction has been freed after the Brooklyn district attorney's office conceded the case had been mishandled and should be thrown out.
Kevin Richardson, an executive assistant district attorney, said the office had not learned until May that the key witness who incriminated Jabbar Collins in had recanted before the trial. Richardson said the office could not retry the case because of the loss of the witness testimony and physical evidence that has been destroyed.
Collins was convicted in 1995 of gunning down his landlord, Rabbi Abraham Pollack, as he collected rent money in a Williamsburg building.
A federal judge Tuesday called the handling of the case "shameful" and vacated the conviction. Collins, 37, was freed Wednesday. He said he wants to go to law school and defend people without legal representation.
Deal halts hearing
The New York Times said the decision also spares officials from the Brooklyn district attorney’s office — most notably the hard-charging prosecutor who oversaw the case, Michael F. Vecchione — from being compelled to testify about the allegations of misconduct during a habeas corpus hearing that was set to resume this week.
The deal amounted to a rare and embarrassing admission by the Brooklyn district attorney’s office — which had initially insisted that Collins be retried — that the case had been mishandled, the Times said.
Judge Dora L. Irizarry, of the United States District Court in Brooklyn, said Tuesday that in agreeing to free Collins, the district attorney’s office had avoided a hearing that would have offered greater transparency into the case’s “troubling history.”
“It is indeed beyond disappointing, it is really sad that the district attorney’s office persists in standing firm and saying that it did nothing wrong here,” the judge said.
Richardson, who insisted only two weeks ago that the office remained committed to pursuing a new trial against Collins, informed the judge Tuesday of the flip-flop just as the hearing was about to get under way.
"My office's position, then and now, is we believe in this defendant's guilt," Richardson said.
Vecchione has overseen numerous high-profile Brooklyn cases and was an author of a book about his exploits in the “Mafia Cops” case. In that book, “Friends of the Family,” he described himself as “a prosecutor with a passion for justice who had spent most of his life trying to make sure bad things happened to bad people.”
The Times reported that from prison, Collins amassed evidence of misconduct by Vecchione, whom he accused of “playing God” by threatening a witness with physical violence, failing to turn over exculpatory evidence to the defense, knowingly eliciting inaccurate testimony and making false statements.
Vecchione refused to comment.
Brooklyn District Attorney Charles J. Hynes, who was in office during Collins’ initial trial, vigorously defended Vecchione, who he said would not face any investigation or disciplinary action.
“Anyone who knows Mike Vecchione, who has ever seen him in action, knows that he is a very, very principled lawyer,” Hynes told the Times. He also defended the office’s handling of the case and said the decision to drop it had nothing to do with the allegations of misconduct but rather the passage of time since the slaying.