By Anna Merlan
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But a review of Bigweh's statements (three written and one videotaped) show that Bigweh only described the hat in a statement he made hours after detectives placed him in a van and conducted a drive-by identification of Boltwho was wearing the hat then. No other witness in any of the three trials related to this case described a similar hat being worn by any of the robbers.
Leventhal returned to the issue of the hat several times in his closing argument, and his assertions slipped by unchallenged by Villoni. In fact, Villoni recently told the Voice that he doesn't recall any testimony at Bolt's trial about a hat.
None of that was challenged by Villoni. And Bolt's only alibis for his whereabouts were his relatives. Bolt's cousin Clement Winter says Bolt was in the restaurant around the time of the robbery, which happened about 12 blocks away. He says he told that to Villoni before trial and doesn't know why he wasn't called as a witness. Bolt's mother, Melba Pickersgill, says Villoni called a meeting with her and Bolt's wife, Bridget, as well as Winter, a happy-go-lucky sort who was smiling when he met with the lawyer. Villoni, the mother says, was suspicious of that smile, asking, "Is there something I don't know about?" After interviewing Bolt's wife, Villoni told the group that he didn't think she'd hold up under questioning. Villoni now says that he vaguely recalls some problem with using Bolt's cousin and wife as witnesses, but can't remember specifics.
As a witness in the case, Melba Pickersgill wasn't allowed in the courtroom. But a few days into the trial, Bridget's mother told her, "Stop the trial right now. Get Rohan a new lawyer. That man doesn't know what he's doing."
Bolt recalls trying to follow the proceedings but becoming confused by the sidebar discussions and rulings. All he knew was that he was innocent, and he assumed that he'd be acquitted.
"When the jury came back with 'guilty,' " he recalls, "I was like, 'How can this happen? What's their case? What evidence did you see to find me guilty?' I knew I was the wrong man. Part of me wanted to cry, but I held my head up."
Five weeks after Rohan Bolt was sentenced to a minimum of 50 years, Leventhal dropped all charges against Jason Ligon, telling the judge, "Mr. Ligon is not part of this crime at all. His confession to police was a false confession." Leventhal claimed that Ligon involved himself in the check-cashing case so he could cut a deal on a pending drug case out of Washington, D.C. (Ligon denies that, telling me, "I'd give up a drug case for a murder case? That's some bullshit.")
By his own admission, Ligon, now 44, was a once-thriving drug dealer. Five months after the Davis-Epstein murders, he was arrested in East Elmhurst on a tip from an informant. Earlier that day, he had been in Atlantic City, gambling and partying heavily, he says, and he was still drunk when the cops picked him up.
"I remember they tried to show me some pictures of these guys. I said, 'Who are these guys?' I had never seen these guys. I had never met them before."
Ligon says that Bovino and Bubelnik wrote out his confession and that he was so drunk he barely remembers signing it. They started to videotape him, but before he finished, Ligon broke the video camera. He says it was because he suddenly realized he was being set up.
Private investigator Kevin Hinkson, a former NYPD detective, eventually uncovered evidence showing that Ligon was registered in a Washington, D.C., hotel at the time of the crime. In court papers, Leventhal claimed that Ligon obtained the details in his statement from his grandmother (the woman who lived across the street from the check-cashing store and called 911), from "other sources" in the neighborhood, and by extracting it from Bovino and Bubelnik.
Bovino is now retired from the NYPD and living "the good life," he says, with views of the mountains from his porch in bucolic Elbert County, Colorado, where he works as a sheriff's deputy. To this day, he says he still believes Ligon was involved. "Nothing was fed to him," Bovino says. "I was in total disagreement with the Queens district attorney's office on this one." When asked about the hotel registration, Bovino said, "I'd like to see it. No one ever told me about that."
Ligon says he recanted immediately. Officials in the district attorney's office acknowledged that they knew at least 18 months before Bolt went to trial about Ligon's claim of innocence, but said they but weren't able to substantiate it until after Bolt's trial.
Rohan Bolt's appeal attempts have been snake-bitten. One of his appeal attorneys died. Another was indicted for fraud and dropped Bolt's case without telling him. Finally, two months ago, Bolt's mother hired attorneys Mark Gimpel and David Diamond, former lawyers with the state attorney general's office. As prisoner number 00A2845, Bolt's connection to most of his family has slipped away. Unable to handle the depressing jail visits and the prospect that the earliest her husband might be paroled was at age 85, his wife left him. Bolt has tried his best to "maintain that father love" for his children, but with even the youngest of his brood now a teenager, the visits have decreased in frequency.