Tuesday, March 06, 2007
New York man officially cleared of murder charges
Another jailhouse snitch, a crooked DA and crazy forensic "science" at work
Charges were officially dropped Monday against a man who spent 15 years in jail for a murder he didn't commit. Investigators uncovered no new information to use against Roy Brown and the DNA evidence used to win his freedom "trumped" the bite marks and statement from a jailhouse informant used to convict him, Cayuga County District Attorney James Vargason said during a brief hearing.
"The question is not could he be retried, but should he be retried, and the simple answer is he should not," Vargason told Judge Mark Fandrich. While Vargason said he couldn't say with absolute certainty that Brown was innocent, he acknowledged the evidence was "powerful" that someone else killed Sabina Kulakowski in 1991. In a lowered voice, Vargason expressed his "sincerest regrets" to Brown, calling his case a triple tragedy in which a woman was murdered, an innocent man wrongly jailed, and the real killer never brought to justice. "The worst nightmare for a prosecutor is not getting it right. No one should have to go to jail for a crime they didn't commit," said Vargason, who prosecuted Brown after inheriting his case from his predecessor.
"I hope you can put your life back together," Fandrich said, dismissing the indictment.
Meanwhile, Sheriff David Gould said the investigation had been reopened into Kulakowski's murder.
Brown, 46, was convicted in 1992 of stabbing and strangling Kulakowski, a social worker. He was found guilty mostly on the strength of bite marks on her nude body that a prosecution witness linked to Brown, even though they showed indentations from six upper teeth while Brown had only four.
After his appeals were rejected, Brown filed a Freedom of Information request four years ago and paid $28.50 for copies of all the documents in his case. He found four affidavits relating to Barry Bench, the brother of Kulakowski's ex-boyfriend. Neither Brown nor his lawyers had previously seen the affidavits, which convinced Brown that Bench was the killer. Brown sent a letter from prison to Bench in 2003, accusing him of the murder. Several days later, Bench committed suicide by stepping in front of a train.
Vargason ordered Bench's body exhumed for DNA testing, which matched the DNA the red T-shirt investigators believe Kulakowski was wearing the night she was killed in 1991.
At a Jan. 23 hearing, Fandrich released Brown from prison based on the new DNA evidence. However, the judge allowed the indictment to stand until Vargason's office decided whether it wanted to retry Brown. Vargason admitted to Fandrich that evidence available in 1991 would likely have exonerated Brown but it was never turned over to his defense attorneys.
That evidence involved an examination of the bite marks by Lowell Levine, a nationally recognized forensic dental expert, who said the marks were not made by Brown. However, former District Attorney Paul Carbonaro told Levine not to make a report of his findings, and instead retained a local dentist to testify at the trial.
"This was a tragedy, yes, but one that should have, and could have been avoided," said Nina Morrison, staff attorney for the Innocence Project, which aided Brown in his quest for freedom. Peter Neufield, co-director of Innocence Project, told Fandrich his organization is pushing for a state commission to examine how such a miscarriage of justice could occur to Brown and others. Brown is the eighth person in New York state proven innocent through DNA testing in just 13 months. "We would do a great disservice to Roy ... if we do not learn from this case," Neufield said.
A New York Innocence Commission would examine how wrongful convictions occur and make recommendations on how to prevent them. Neufield said Brown's case illustrated three areas of focus for such a commission _ the reliance on unvalidated scientific analysis, the use of jailhouse informants and prosecutorial misconduct.
Brown, wearing a T-shirt that read "Not Guilty," spoke with reporters after the hearing, saying he was taking his life day to day. He said he was continuing to receive treatment for an ailing liver and is awaiting a transplant. Last week, he spent three days in the hospital after passing out, he said. Brown said he would be seeking compensation for being wrongfully convicted. "To put it mildly, I was framed," Brown said. "Somebody has to look into how something like this could happen." Several film companies are interested in Brown's story, said Katy Karlovitz, one of Brown's trial attorneys.
(And don't forget your ration of Wicked Thoughts for today)
Posted by bussorah at 3:21 PM