Saturday, August 18, 2012

Misconduct by NY Prosecutors, Once Again

In March 2000, a tough guy named Petros Bedi was convicted of shooting a man dead in an Astoria nightclub. For this and other crimes, he is now serving 42 1/2 years in prison.

The crucial witness against Mr. Bedi agreed to testify only after the police arrested him on charges of dealing drugs.

During Mr. Bedi’s trial, a defense lawyer blasted away at the credibility of this witness and tried to prove he had incentive to lie. Didn’t the Queens district attorney foot the hotel bill to put up you and your girlfriend for eight months? Weren’t you paid handsomely for your testimony?

No, the witness insisted. I paid my own bill. Nobody paid me anything.

This was not true, and the prosecutors who sat in that courtroom and vouched for the honesty and truthfulness of this witness knew it.

Newly disclosed witness protection records show that the district attorney’s office in fact paid the witness, Seraphim Koumpouras, $16,640 for hotel bills. Prosecutors also gave him about $3,000 in cash; he received the last payment six days before he testified.

None of these specifics were disclosed to the defense. Instead, Mr. Bedi, with the help of a private investigator, battled for 10 years to obtain these records, which prosecutors should have turned over at the trial.

In a lawsuit filed Monday in State Supreme Court in Queens, Mr. Bedi’s new lawyer, Joel Rudin, asked the court to overturn the conviction. “This is,” he said, “a reprehensible case of prosecutorial misconduct.”

The district attorney’s office says only that it intends to contest the case vigorously.

Mr. Rudin has found a new witness, who points at a different gunman. Let’s put that question aside for now. Let’s also acknowledge that Mr. Bedi is no Jean Valjean, languishing because of an ugly twist of fate.

Mr. Bedi has been convicted in other cases of drug dealing and conspiracy to murder. But the genius of our system is that our most cherished rights often ride the backs of deeply flawed defendants. As Mr. Rudin says, “Just because the prosecution thinks he’s a criminal, that doesn’t mean they can rig the result.”

Mr. Rudin can lay claim to a real expertise on questions of prosecutorial misconduct. In 2003, a court found that a prosecutor in Queens had lied and tolerated lies by witnesses in order to convict Shih-Wei Su of a pool-hall murder.

Mr. Su served 13 years in prison. When he got out, he sued the city with Mr. Rudin’s help. In 2008, the city agreed, by way of apology, to write him a check for $3.5 million.

Mr. Rudin also handled the case of Jabbar Collins, who served 16 years because of prosecutorial missteps in Brooklyn. With Mr. Rudin’s help, he filed suit last year against the city and Michael Vecchione, chief of the rackets bureau for Brooklyn’s district attorney.

Prosecutorial misconduct has become a legal sore in plain sight. Marvin Schechter, a defense lawyer and chairman of the criminal justice section of the New York State Bar Association, wrote a column recently stating that misconduct stood revealed not as a trickle but as a polluted river.

He blamed district attorneys who valued conviction rates and tough-guy images over adherence to the rights of the accused. “Assistant district attorneys do not emerge from law school with a genetic disposition” to hide vital material, he wrote. “Instead this is something which is learned and taught.”

Prosecutors loosened howls of indignation. Prominent prosecutorial sorts have written letters in the past month and intimated they will no longer serve on committees if such calumnies stand.

Harrumph and all that.

AS Mr. Rudin noted in his filing, in 70 known cases of prosecutorial mistakes and misbehavior in Queens over about a decade, the district attorney, Richard A. Brown, has disciplined just one lawyer.

In Brooklyn, the district attorney, Charles J. Hynes, promoted and gave an award to Mr. Vecchione.

Three years ago, the State Bar Association created a task force that studied 53 cases of wrongful conviction. It found that prosecutorial and police misconduct accounted for over half the cases.

The stakes are primal. Mr. Bedi, 41, falls well short of sainthood, but he has served 17 years for all of his crimes. If his conviction on the murder charge stands, he faces 25 more years in prison.

As for Mr. Koumpouras, the prosecutors said his life was in danger, so they squirreled him away, at quite unusual expense. But when he stepped off the stand, such worries dissipated.

Prosecutors, the records show, handed him a final $100 and bid him goodbye.

Original report here

(And don't forget your ration of Wicked Thoughts for today. Now hosted on Wordpress. If you cannot access it, go to the MIRROR SITE, where posts appear as well as on the primary site. I have reposted the archives (past posts) for Wicked Thoughts HERE or HERE or here

No comments: