Thirteen years ago, David Lemus and Olmedo Hildago were convicted of second-degree murder of the Palladium nightclub bouncer, Marcus Peterson. But were they really guilty? Just last week, New York City Judge Roger Hayes heard oral arguments from both sides and, in a rare decision, NBC was granted permission to videotape the proceedings. At the center of the case are two detectives who never gave up on their search for the truth.
Three years ago, "Dateline NBC" was granted access to Bronx homicide detectives Bobby Addolorato and John Schwartz as they set out to re-investigate the murder, after new evidence emerged suggesting that David Lemus and Omeldo Hidalgo might be innocent. What's more, the detectives say they believe they know who the real gunmen were: former fellow gang members Joey Pillot and Thomas "Spanky" Morales.
In front of NBC cameras, Joey Pillot confesses for the first time on tape that he and his cohort Spanky were responsible (Pillot is serving prison time for other crimes not related to the Palladium murder). Though Pillot's account had been rejected by a judge years ago, "Dateline NBC" follows Detectives Addolorato and Schwartz as they uncover new information they say supports Pillot's confession and exonerates the two men in prison. "Dateline NBC" is also with the detectives the day they deliver their information to the Manhattan District Attorney's office.
Our cameras roll as the detectives share their disappointment and Addolorato claims, "It's like they just didn't care. And...that just rips me to shreds because that's their job...they're supposed to care."
Addolorato and Schwartz say they were silenced, pulled from the case, and ordered not to arrest "Spanky," who the DA acknowledges was identified as "a third shooter." Ultimately, Detective Addolorato says he gave up his 20-year career because of this case.
"To get some closure in this case, I have to retire, I have to leave the police department."
His partner Schwartz says of the District Attorney's office, "if they can do it to these two guys they can do it to anyone else."
"Murder at the Palladium" includes exclusive interviews with defendants Lemus and Hildago, eyewitnesses to the crime, family members, attorneys, and the foreperson of the jury, Carol Kramer, who voted to convict the men and is now asking for their release. Kramer says, "I want the police and the District Attorney to put the right man in jail and get the innocent guys out. I mean this is a travesty of justice."
In the hour-long report, "Dateline NBC" also tracks down Thomas "Spanky" Morales. Prosecutors say Morales committed the crime with Lemus and Hidalgo. Morales refuses to discuss the night of the murder, however, he denies knowing, or ever speaking with, Lemus or Hildago. In his first public comments, Morales also tells Dateline, "I'm not hiding from nobody. They know where I'm at. They say they've got an abundance of evidence that I'm involved in this thing. I'm in the same place I've been at since I've been home. So I just want to rectify and make it clear in the record that I don't know these guys."
In July 2004, defense attorneys for Lemus and Hidalgo filed a motion to vacate the convictions. The D.A.s office stands by the convictions and issued the following statement: "The Manhattan District Attorney's Office has conducted a comprehensive re-investigation of the Palladium shooting in light of new allegations in the case. The defendants' current motion seeking a new tiral is based largely on evidence uncovered by this office and disclosed by us to the defense. The results of our investigation, which involved interviews with more than 50 witnesses in 14 states, are a matter of public record, in the office's most recent filing with the court. We will have no comment pending the court's resolution of the issues in the current motion."
Just last week New York City Judge Roger Hayes heard oral arguments from both sides and, in a rare decision, NBC was granted permission to videotape the proceedings.