After 15 Years in Prison, Murder Suspect is Freed

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A man who was incarcerated for 15 years for the murder of his landlord has been freed by the Brooklyn D.A.’s office because of prosecutorial misconduct.

Jabbar Collins had been convicted in 1995 of shooting his landlord, Rabbi Abraham Pollack, as he collected rent money in his Williamsburg apartment building. He was sentenced to 34 years-to-life after a jury found him guilty, but three witnesses—all of whom provided testimony that was key to the conviction—have since recanted, saying that they were coerced to testify against Collins by prosecutors and police.

Collins had filed a motion for habeas corpus, saying that evidence had been withheld from him at his original trial. Chief among that evidence was the fact the one witness had changed his story before the trial—and that prosecutor Michael Vecchione, who now heads the rackets division of the D.A.’s office, knew about the recantation. Vecchione has denied the knowledge in affadavits, denials that were gainsaid by the U.S. District Court judge, Dora L. Irizarry, who vacated the conviction on Tuesday and called the case “shameful.”

“It defies credulity to believe he did not know about the recantation,” said Irizarry. She also barred the prosecutors from ever retrying Collins.

Last month, one of the key witnesses in the trial said that Vecchione had threatened him with physical violence and imprisonment if he didn’t testify against Collins.

Despite having declared as recently as several weeks ago that District Attorney’s office would indeed pursue a retrial, Assistant D.A. Kevin Richardson read from a statement in court that, since the office could “no longer prove our case against the defendant beyond a reasonable doubt at a retrial,” they would drop the attempt to retry Collins.

“My office’s position, then and now, is we believe in this defendant’s guilt,” said Richardson.

Collins, 37, studied law while in prison and embarked on a decade-long quest to prove his innocence, in addition to assisting fellow inmates with their appeals. He now plans to go to law school to round out his education, and wants to help people who do not have access to legal representation.

“Simply because someone is named a district attorney does not mean that they’re incapable of mistakes or even intentional misconduct,” said Collins, shortly after being joyfully greeted by family members outside his mother’s Queens home. “I’m thankful that justice was finally served.”

 

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