Two Long Island Men Get $18 Million in Wrongful Conviction Lawsuit

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Flickr / Rüdiger skINMATE
John Restivo and Dennis Halstead spent 18 years in prison after a jury convicted them on charges of raping and murdering a 16-year-old girl on Long Island in 1984. In 2003 DNA evidence showed that somebody else actually committed the crime, and Nassau County prosecutors dismissed the charges, setting the men free.

They sued the county. Jurors in federal court in Central Islip heard testimony suggesting that a detective planted evidence on Restivo and hid evidence that worked in the defendants' favor. On Thursday, the jury awarded Restivo and Halstead $18 million each.

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As Occupy Protester Cecily McMillan's Trial Continues, Judge Orders Both Sides To Quit Talking to Press

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McMillan and Stolar during a press conference on Monday, April 14. The judge imposed a gag order on both sides on April 16.
The trial of Cecily McMillan, the Occupy Wall Street activist accused of assaulting a police officer during a demonstration two years ago, is expected to drag on for an estimated three weeks. Judge Ronald Zweibel has been visibly irritated for much of the trial, displeased by McMillan's supporters wearing pink paper hands and hearts in the courtroom, and seemingly by the heavy media attention paid to the case. Before testimony continued yesterday, inflamed by a quote by one of McMillan's defense attorneys in the New York Times, he imposed a gag order on both sides.

Officer Grantley Bovell, the NYPD officer accusing McMillan of assault, began his testimony on Monday morning, telling Assistant District Attorney Erin Choi that McMillan deliberately elbowed him in the eye as he tried to lead her from the park. During a brief press conference after court that day, Stolar told reporters that Bovell's testimony wasn't consistent with McMillan's memories of the day, or a video of the incident posted on YouTube.

In truth, the chaotic video doesn't do any favors to either side: McMillan can blurrily be seen elbowing Bovell, an incident her attorneys do not deny took place. But it's impossible to tell whether or not Bovell grabbed her breast, which McMillan says is what preceded the elbowing.

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Richard Rosario Is Still Fighting to Prove His Innocence After 17 Years in Prison

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Roaring Jellyfish via Compfight cc
Richard Rosario has been in prison for 17 years. His daughter was three years old and his son was two when he was convicted of murdering a man in the Bronx on June 19, 1996. One of the hardest parts of these 17 years was figuring out how the kids should learn about where their dad was. At first their mother Minerva told them that their father was in the military and based in Japan. He couldn't come home right now but he would be home soon, she told them. "I didn't want them to have this portrayal of their father as a criminal," she says.

But by the time Amanda Rosario was 12, she'd caught on that her mother was hiding something and she told her mother so. Minerva decided to tell her: "your father is in prison for a crime he didn't commit." Amanda didn't understand.

"She would ask the same question that I ask," says Minerva. "'Why is he there if he didn't do it?'"

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In Occupy Activist Cecily McMillan's Trial, Judge Rules NYPD Doesn't Have to Hand Over Officer's Disciplinary File

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Image via Facebook
In two weeks, the last trial of an Occupy Wall Street activist will begin, when 25-year-old Cecily McMillan faces charges that she assaulted a police officer, Grantley Bovell, on March 17, 2012, during a 6-month anniversary demonstration at Zuccotti Park. In a decision issued yesterday, State Supreme Court Judge Ronald A. Zweibel decided that the information contained in Bovell's internal disciplinary file isn't relevant to the case and that the defense can't see any part of it. But McMillan's lawyer argues that this officer has assaulted and falsely arrested people before, and that the file can help them prove it.

McMillan's lawyer and her supporters say Officer Bovell was the one who assaulted her, grabbing her by the breast from behind and dragging her backwards. When she threw up her arms in an instinctive defensive gesture, they say, she hit the officer's temple. In response, Bovell and other officers beat her severely, causing her to suffer a series of seizures. (A few days later, a shaken-looking McMillan appeared on Democracy Now to describe the incident.) But the NYPD argues in their court filings that McMillan deliberately elbowed Bovell in the face while he was arresting someone else. McMillan was charged with assault on an officer, a felony that carries a maximum of seven years in prison.

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Appeals Court Clears Subcontractors in Fatal Parking Garage Accident

Categories: Courts

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Google Maps
1991 Marcus Avenue, Long Island.
On a February morning in 2008, Julie and Charles Simon drove to work together. A contractor had hired them to put up wallpaper in a recently constructed office building on Marcus Avenue on Long Island. It was their second day on the job and there were many fences around the site. They weren't sure how to get to the front entrance and the car made its way into an underground parking garage next to the office building.

They did not know the garage was still under construction.

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Was an Upstate Prosecutor's PowerPoint Presentation Too Emotional for Trial?

Categories: Courts

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Wikimedia Commons
New York State Court of Appeals in Albany.
In 2008, Cheryl Santiago, stood trial, accused of suffocating her 22-month step-daughter to death. During closing arguments, the Dutchess County prosecutor showed the jury a PowerPoint presentation. It ran six minutes--the length of time it would have taken to suffocate the baby, according to a doctor's testimony. During those six minutes, jurors saw a series of slides, each showing the same photo of the child's dead body, each faded a bit more than the last until the final slide was completely white. Santiago's defense lawyer did not object. The jury found her guilty of second degree murder and the judge sentenced her to 22-years-to-life in prison.

But was the PowerPoint too emotional for a courtroom?

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NY Court of Appeals Rules on Limits to Warrantless Search of Purse

Categories: Courts

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On May 23, 2008, police officers responded to a burglary reported in a Bronx apartment building. The 911 caller described the suspects as two Latino males, around 5'9" to 5'11".

Two officers saw a Latino woman and man in the lobby. The building superintendent, also in the lobby, pointed at the pair and made a face that the officers "interpreted as a request for the police to stop them," according to court documents. The police questioned the woman, Josefina Jimenez, and found her answers suspicious: "while she initially stated that she was there to visit a friend, she then claimed she was in search of a notary, but could provide neither names nor apartment numbers associated therewith. There were 'No Trespassing' signs posted in the lobby."

By this time, at least four other officers had arrived on the scene. They arrested Jimenez and the man for trespassing. One officer took Jimenez's purse off her shoulder, opened it, and found a loaded handgun. A jury convicted Jimenez of criminal possession of a weapon and criminal trespassing in the first degree--first degree because of the firearm.

The search that led to the gun, however, was unconstitutional, according to the state's highest court. The New York Court of Appeals ruled, in a 4-3 split decision released on Tuesday, that the circumstances surrounding Jimenez's arrest did not give police the right to search her purse without a warrant.

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Will Huyen Nguyen Be Deported Because Her Husband Is Her Half-Uncle?

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Wikimedia Commons
In August, 2000, Vietnamese immigrant Huyen Nguyen took steps to become a permanent resident of the United States following her marriage to an American citizen, Vu Truong. Seven years later, the United States Customs and Immigration Service rejected her petition for permanent residency and ruled that she was not living here legally: Nguyen was Truong's half-niece so officials deemed the marriage incestuous and void.

The couple appealed the decision. To an immigration judge and the Board of Immigration Appeals, the case was simple: birth records and immigration documents showed that Nguyen's maternal grandmother is Truong's mother, which meant their marriage was not valid and so neither was Nguyen's residency status. The judge ordered her deportation.

But when the case reached federal appeals court, the Manhattan-based Second Circuit declared that the facts were not as straight-forward as they seemed: a closer reading of New York statute may in fact validate the marriage. Last week the Second Circuit sought help from the state's highest court, and the New York Court of Appeals must now determine how the law defines an "incestuous" marriage.

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High Court Orders New Trial for Murder Suspect Coerced into Confession by Police

Categories: Courts

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Wikimedia Commons
New York State Court of Appeals in Albany.
On a September morning in 2008, Wilhelmina Hicks found her four-month old son Matthew unconscious. The boy died at the hospital and doctors concluded that he had suffered blunt force trauma. Troy, New York police officers brought Matthew's father, Adrian Thomas, in for questioning that same day.

The interrogation lasted more than nine hours and by the end Thomas had confessed to causing the infant's head injury, even acting out the motions for the officers. Prosecutors charged Thomas for the murder and showed video of the confession at trial. The jury convicted him and he was sentenced to 25-years-to-life in prison.

To get Thomas to confess, however, officers had told him a series of lies. On Thursday, New York state's highest court ruled that police had coerced Thomas into an "involuntary" confession. In a unanimous ruling, the Court of Appeals reversed the conviction and ordered a retrial.

"The various misrepresentations and false assurances used to elicit and shape defendant's admissions manifestly raised a substantial risk of false incrimination," Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman wrote for the court.

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Woman Who Killed Her Alleged Rapist Must Be Granted New Parole Hearing, Judge Rules

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Image via HudsonLink
Taconic Correctional Facility, where Pulinario is now serving her time.
Seventeen years after a woman murdered her alleged rapist, a State Supreme Court judge has issued a rare decision, ordering a parole board that declined to set her free to reconsider. The current case stems from a September night in 1995, when 21-year-old Imagio Santana was found shot to death on a street corner in Brentwood, Long Island. Santana carried no ID; he was identified by his fingerprints and by the tattoo of the word "Dominican" he had on his right arm.

The police discovered heroin on Santana's body, and learned he'd been arrested the previous month for drug possession. Lieutenant John Gierasch, who headed the Suffolk County Homicide Squad, said that the killing "had the markings of a drug hit," according to a New York Daily News account from the time.

But on October 18, a month after the murder, police arrested a 21-year-old woman with no criminal record, Keila Pulinario. She told police that she had shot Santana, with whom she had an on-and-off relationship for the past five years. The reason, she said, was that several days earlier, Santana had raped her in his car. When she confronted him about it, he laughed and threatened to rape her again.

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