On February 3, 2017, after a six year odyssey through the criminal justice system, Cesar Villavicencio was acquitted of murder and released from custody. ECBA partner Earl Ward was able to demonstrate to the jury that the medical examiner’s conclusion that the deceased died from strangulation was wrong and, further, that the death was caused by a drug overdose.
In January 2016 Jaime DeJesus, who was serving a 20-year sentence for assault in the first degree, had his conviction overturned by the First Department appellate court. At the request of his appellate attorneys, who believed in his innocence, ECBA agreed to handle his retrial. After a five-week trial, the jury deliberated for less than three hours and acquitted Mr. DeJesus of all charges. ECBA partners Earl Ward and Elizabeth Saylor tried the case.
The City of New York has agreed to pay $6 million to Derrick Deacon, a man who spent over twenty years in prison for a murder he did not commit. Mr. Deacon was initially convicted in 1989 as the result of egregious misconduct by law enforcement and prosecutors. After new evidence came to light showing that Mr. Deacon was not the perpetrator, he was granted a retrial and acquitted in minutes. This suit, filed after his acquittal, challenged the official misconduct used to initially convict Mr. Deacon. The New York Daily News covered the settlement here.
After a three-week trial, Oral Nicholas Hillary was acquitted of the 2011 murder of Garrett Phillips, a 12 year old resident of Potsdam, New York.
Hillary’s legal team, led by ECBA partner Earl S. Ward and co-counsel Norman Siegel, argued that the lack of evidence against Mr. Hillary mandated that he be acquitted of all charges. As Mr. Ward stated in his closing argument, “There is absolutely no direct evidence tying Mr. Hillary to this crime. Nick Hillary is not the type of person that would walk into a room, put his hands around the neck of a child and strangle him, kill that child. That is not Nick Hillary.” Judge Felix J. Cantena agreed, finding Mr. Hillary not guilty of all charges.
A New York judge rejected prosecutors’ attempts to use controversial DNA methods in the upcoming murder trial of Oral Nicholas Hillary, who is represented by ECBA attorney Earl Ward and co-counsel Normal Siegel. The August 26 decision is a significant victory for Mr. Hillary, who has maintained his innocence in the 2011 murder of a 12-year-old boy in upstate New York.
Earlier this year, prosecutors stated their intention to use a computer program known as STRmix to analyze a miniscule scraping from the victim’s fingernails, even though previous attempts to link Mr. Hillary’s DNA to the victim were unsuccessful. Mr. Ward and the defense team challenged the reliability of STRmix at two hearings held in July and August. Judge Felix J. Catena for St. Lawrence County Court agreed with the defense that the program lacked validation and ruled that its results are inadmissible.
The trial is scheduled to begin on September 6 in Canton, New York.
ECBA partner Earl S. Ward appeared on a panel at Fordham Law School to discuss wrongful convictions. The panelists discussed the problems with eye witness testimony, Brady material, and prosecutorial discretion. Earl has successfully represented many people challenging their convictions. Most recently, he helped secure over $30 million from New York State and New York City for three men who were convicted of a murder they did not commit. Two of the men spent 18 years in prison; the third was incarcerated for over 12 years. Read more about the Firm’s wrongful conviction work here.
On April 25, 2016, the City of Cleveland agreed to a $6 million payment to settle the federal civil rights lawsuit that arose from the tragic death of Tamir Rice. This settlement has received extensive coverage in the national and local press.
The City of Cleveland has agreed to payment of $6 million to settle the federal civil rights lawsuit involving the tragic death of Tamir Rice. Although historic in financial terms, no amount of money can adequately compensate for the loss of a life. Tamir was 12 years old when he was shot and killed by police — a young boy with his entire life ahead of him, full of potential and promise.
In a situation such as this, there is no such thing as closure or justice. Nothing will bring Tamir back. His unnecessary and premature death leaves a gaping hole for those who knew and loved him that can never be filled.
Regrettably, Tamir’s death is not an isolated event. The problem of police violence, especially in communities of color, is a crisis plaguing our nation. It is the sincere hope of the Rice family that Tamir’s death will stimulate a movement for genuine change in our society and our nation’s policing so that no family ever has to suffer a tragedy such as this again.
New York City and State have agreed to pay $23.78 million to Michael Cosme and Carlos Perez, who were wrongfully convicted and incarcerated for 18 years for two 1995 murders in which neither man had any involvement. Mr. Cosme and Mr. Perez will each receive $8 million from New York City, in addition to $3.89 million previously paid by New York State, for a total of $11.89 million each in settlements.
Mr. Cosme and Mr. Perez were jointly indicted with five other individuals for the 1995 murders of a livery taxi driver and a FedEx employee, despite the absence of any physical evidence connecting them to the crimes. A 2012 investigation by federal authorities revealed that the taxi driver’s murder had actually been committed by two gang members whose names came up repeatedly during the NYPD’s 1995 investigation but who were never pursued as suspects. The revelation that the two gang members had previously confessed to committing the taxi driver murder—without any involvement by any of the six people convicted—led to the recantation of a central witness in the FedEx case, who claimed that her trial testimony had been coerced and manufactured by NYPD detectives. After using this new information to help free Mr. Cosme and Mr. Perez from prison in 2013, ECBA attorneys Earl S. Ward, Elizabeth S. Saylor, and David A. Lebowitz represented the men in civil litigation against the City and State along with co-counsel Julia Kuan of Romano & Kuan, PLLC.
ECBA and Romano & Kuan previously obtained $6.7 million in settlements from the City and State on behalf of the estate of Israel Vasquez, one of the other individuals wrongly accused of the same two 1995 murders, who spent over 12 years in prison before his conviction was overturned due to the insufficiency of the evidence against him. The team has thus recovered over $30 million for these three families in connection with this tragic case. The New York Times and the New York Daily News, among other publications, covered the settlements.