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2 Convicted in ’95 Killing of Livery Driver Near Exoneration

October 19, 2012

NEW YORK -- A man and a woman who have been imprisoned since 1997 for the fatal shooting of a livery-cab driver in the Bronx took an important step toward exoneration and freedom on Friday when prosecutors told a judge that they had agreed to vacate the convictions while they look into assertions that the killing was committed by somebody else.

The defendants, Eric Glisson and Cathy Watkins, have long maintained that they were wrongfully convicted in the murder of Baithe Diop, a Senegalese immigrant who was shot twice in 1995 and left to die as his livery cab rolled through a street in the Soundview neighborhood.

The case has been re-examined as a result of evidence that has recently emerged suggesting that the murder was committed by members of a Bronx narcotics gang who later became federal informers.

Atty Peter Cross and client Eric Glisson
Atty. Peter Cross and Eric Glisson
Mr. Glisson and Ms. Watkins stood handcuffed in State Supreme Court in the Bronx before Justice Denis J. Boyle, as a prosecutor in the Bronx district attorney’s office, Nicole Keary, agreed to free them for at least 90 days.

“During that time we will investigate the claims that two other individuals, not Mr. Glisson and Ms. Watkins, committed the murder,” Ms. Keary said.

She added that if the district attorney’s office found evidence within 90 days that absolved Ms. Watkins and Mr. Glisson, the temporary clearing of their convictions would become permanent. A memorandum of agreement also gave the district attorney’s office the option of asking that the charges be reinstated if they determined that Mr. Glisson and Ms. Watkins were in fact guilty.

Ms. Keary said the two would be released, probably on Wednesday, after they had been fitted with electronic bracelets to ensure that they abided by the terms of the conditional release, which limits their travel.

As the prosecutor spoke, Ms. Watkins’s lawyer, Paul Casteleiro, stood next to her, gripping her hand. A moment later, court officers briefly uncuffed Ms. Watkins so that she could sign paperwork.

Mr. Glisson and Ms. Watkins gained influential support a few months ago after Mr. Glisson wrote to federal prosecutors in Manhattan saying that he thought members of a gang called Sex Money and Murder, or S.M.M., had killed Mr. Diop.

The details of the crime resonated with a federal investigator, John O’Malley, who had once been a homicide detective in the Bronx. Mr. O’Malley remembered that two former S.M.M. members, Jose Rodriguez and Gilbert Vega, who had agreed to cooperate with federal prosecutors against the gang, had told him that they had shot an African livery driver in Soundview in late 1994 or early 1995.

Mr. O’Malley confirmed details of the crime with Mr. Vega and Mr. Rodriguez, then met with Mr. Glisson and eventually prepared a detailed affidavit in which he wrote: “I believe the evidence is overwhelming that Vega and Rodriguez, acting alone, robbed and shot Baithe Diop on Jan. 19, 1995, causing his death.”

Ultimately, six people were tried in Mr. Diop’s death in two trials in the 1990s and five were convicted. Lawyers for Mr. Glisson and Ms. Watkins first cited the information from Mr. O’Malley in August as they asked the court to dismiss the charges against their clients.

On Thursday, Bruce D. Austern, a lawyer for Carlos Perez, among the five convicted in Mr. Diop’s death, filed a motion asking that his client’s conviction be vacated.

A lawyer for Mr. Glisson, Peter A. Cross, told reporters that he thought his client should be cleared swiftly, saying: “I think we all know that Eric and Cathy are innocent. We know who the real killers are.”

Even as supporters of Mr. Glisson and Ms. Watkins were cheered on Friday by the district attorney’s decision, they said they had been hoping they would be released immediately.

Among those present was Mr. Glisson’s daughter, Cynthia Morales, who was 2 weeks old when he was arrested.

“Going to school and hearing other girls talk about their dad and the times they enjoyed together,” she said,“that’s hard for me.”

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