Orders Release of 'Jailhouse Lawyer,' Blasts D.A.'s Lack of Remorse
In vacating a murder
conviction and barring prosecutors from retrying the case, a federal
judge in New York has lashed out at the Brooklyn district attorney's
Office for failing to take responsibility for its prosecutors' alleged
At a contentious,
90-minute habeas corpus hearing Tuesday morning, Eastern District Judge
Dora L. Irizarry noted that petitioner Jabbar Collins, a renowned
jailhouse attorney, had uncovered numerous documents while serving his
34-years-to-life sentence suggesting that prosecutors had withheld
evidence, coerced witnesses and lied to the court and the jury.
However, in agreeing
earlier in the morning not to oppose either Collins' habeas petition or
an order barring retrial, the district attorney's office had conceded
to a single Brady violation, which it claimed was unintentional.
Judge Irizarry called
the office's lack of contrition "sad," "shameful" and "beyond
"I didn't hear any kind
of acknowledgment that things were done that should not have been
done," Irizarry said.
"well-documented" evidence that prosecutors withheld evidence and
misled the jury, Irizarry asked Assistant District Attorney Kevin
Richardson "You stand by that? I think that is shameful."
Irizarry repeated that
sentiment -- "I think it is shameful" -- a second time for emphasis.
In granting Collins'
petition, the judge vacated the conviction, dismissed the indictment
and barred prosecutors from retrying the case. The judge called her
order "the most comprehensive relief" available in a habeas proceeding.
Richardson defended his
office's actions, telling the court, "This office stands behind the
conduct of [its] former assistant district attorneys and Assistant
District Attorney [Michael] Vecchione, who prosecuted the defendant at
his trial, along with the office staff and detective investigators who
assisted them, and we deny each and every one of the allegations
leveled against them."
Collins, who has been
in state prison since 1995, is expected to be released in the next few
Collins was represented
by Joel B. Rudin, a Manhattan-based defense attorney who took on the
case in 2005.
The underlying robbery
and murder occurred on Feb. 6, 1994. Abraham Pollack, a 35-year-old
father of nine, was shot while collecting rents at a building he owned
on Graham Avenue in Williamsburg.
An anonymous witness
claimed that Collins was the shooter, and the following April he was
convicted and sentenced to a minimum of 34 years in prison.
Over the next decade
and a half, Collins went to great lengths to attempt to prove his
innocence and the prosecution's misconduct. When his Freedom of
Information Act requests were ignored, he filed pro se state and
federal lawsuits, which unearthed numerous previously unreleased
documents. He conducted at least one undercover investigation,
pretending to be a prosecutor while calling a witness via a prison
Collins' efforts, as
acknowledged by Irizarry Tuesday, produced substantial evidence that
the prosecution, headed by Vecchione, who now oversees the office's
rackets division, withheld evidence, threatened witnesses and made
material false statements to the trial court.
One document showed
that a key prosecution witness had been jailed as a material witness in
order to ensure that he would testify. At trial, Vecchione had
ridiculed the defense for suggesting that any witness had been
pressured to take the stand. Other documents suggested plea
arrangements and other deals that the district attorney's office had
A witness who testified
last week put a face to Collins' paper trail and foreshadowed the
possibility of damning testimony against the district attorney's office.
Angel Santos, who
testified at trial that he saw Collins running from the scene of the
crime, told Irizarry that, despite an affidavit in which Vecchione
claimed that "no witness had to be threatened or forced to testify,"
Vecchione had told him that he would "hit me over the head with a
coffee table or lock me up for a couple of years for perjury" if he did
Santos also admitted to
Irizarry that he had been a "24/7" drug user at the time he testified
against Collins and was in fact likely on drugs when he allegedly
witnessed Collins running from the scene of the crime -- none of which
had been disclosed by the prosecution to the defense as likely required
Tuesday morning was
supposed to mark the opening of an evidentiary hearing to determine
whether the prosecutor's office, which had already stated that it would
not oppose the habeas petition, should be barred from retrying the case.
However, in a motion
that the two sides negotiated Monday evening, Rudin, Collins' attorney,
told the court that the district attorney's office was agreeing to
Collins' unconditional release.
The motion cited the
office's failure to inform the defense prior to trial that a witness
had temporarily recanted his allegations -- the Brady violation to
which prosecutors had already conceded.
Richardson told the
court that the prosecution nonetheless stood by its original
conclusions regarding Collins' guilt. He added, "It is the opinion of
the office, based on the weaknesses that now exist with the witnesses
and the unavailability of portions of the physical evidence, that to
retry the defendant is no longer a viable option and that we can no
longer secure against him a conviction beyond a reasonable doubt."
The decision to agree
to an order granting Collins all of the relief he requested made the
scheduled evidentiary hearing not only technically unnecessary, but
also beyond the jurisdiction of the court, Irizarry concluded.
After the hearing,
Rudin told reporters, "I was looking forward to confronting [Mr.
Vecchione] with his affidavit and his statements at the trial, and
comparing those with the truth. Obviously, in the final analysis, the
district attorney's office didn't want to expose Mr. Vecchione to
Rudin said that he
probably would file a civil action against he state.
"Everything will be
studied at the appropriate time," Rudin said. "It's not going to end
Rudin was joined by his
associates Terri S. Rosenblatt and Benjamin Fishman. Rudin's previous
high-profile victories include a 1992 reversal for Alberto Ramos, a
Bronx man who had been wrongfully convicted of raping a 5-year-old girl.
Charles J. Hynes answered questions about the Collins case following a
press conference Tuesday afternoon at his office announcing the
donation of 500 pairs of shoes to the Family Justice Center.
Hynes said that his
office would not conduct an internal investigation of Vecchione or any
other prosecutors involved in the case, as the only evidence of any
prosecutorial wrongdoing was the single Brady violation, which the
prosecutors discovered and reported on their own. Hynes said his office
ended its opposition to the proceeding because the case had become
unwinnable, and that the timing had nothing to do with Vecchione's
imminent appearance on the witness stand.
"Anyone who knows Mike
Vecchione, who has ever seen him in action, knows that he is a very,
very principled lawyer," Hynes said.