Brooklyn Deserves a New D.A.

Why the 23-year reign of Charles Hynes must end

"He [Vecchione] has a right to defend himself, but the process needs to start," Barket says. "There ought to be an inquiry with an adjudication into his conduct. It seems to me outrageous that these things keep happening."

Jabbar Collins

Yet keep happening they do. Vecchione was lead prosecutor in the murder trial of Jabbar Collins, who was convicted by the testimony of three witnesses in the 1994 slaying of Rabbi Abraham Pollack:

Jabbar Collins, who spent 16 years in prison for a murder he didn’t commit, says he was railroaded by Hynes’s office.
Courtesy NY1
Jabbar Collins, who spent 16 years in prison for a murder he didn’t commit, says he was railroaded by Hynes’s office.
Attorney Mark Bederow relentlessly pursued justice for Ronald Bozeman in the face of constant gamesmanship by Hynes’s office.
Attorney Mark Bederow relentlessly pursued justice for Ronald Bozeman in the face of constant gamesmanship by Hynes’s office.

Angel Santos claimed he saw Collins running from the scene. He later said under oath that Vecchione threatened to hit him with a coffee table and make him stay in jail unless he testified.

A second witness, Edwin Oliva, had claimed he was present when Collins plotted the murder. But a retired detective later said Oliva recanted the story in police interviews—information Vecchione never turned over to Collins's defense lawyer, as he is required to do. According to claims in Collins's lawsuit, Vecchione also got Oliva's work release from prison revoked and threatened to keep him in prison until he testified against Collins. This alleged extortion also was not disclosed to the defense.

The third witness, Edwin Diaz, said he got a deal in which he would testify against Collins if the prosecutors helped him in clearing a probation violation. This, too, was withheld from the defense.

Collins served 16 years for a murder he did not commit. When no one would listen to his pleas of innocence, he taught himself legal procedure and eventually found his way to freedom with the help of lawyer Joel Rudin, who says the evidence shows a "pervasive pattern of continuous misconduct by every assistant district attorney who touched this case over 16 years."

Of course, remarks like that might be expected from a plaintiff's lawyer, but a little more than a month ago, during a hearing on Collins's wrongful conviction lawsuit against the city, U.S. District Judge Frederic Block made a similar statement from the bench. After bemoaning the fact that, under the rules, Vecchione will "regrettably" get "total immunity" from being personally sued, Block sharply criticized Hynes's support of Vecchione: "Hynes praises Vecchione as one of his wonderful prosecutors. He's said he's done nothing wrong at all. . . . There are serious things that Vecchione did here."

"I'm disturbed by Hynes's behavior," he added. "This is horrific behavior on the part of Vecchione."

Block then questioned why Vecchione didn't testify in an earlier proceeding on his role in the case. The city attorney explained it was the D.A.'s decision. "All of this is going to be uncovered," Block replied. "I kid you not. . . . I'm just puzzled why the district attorney did not take any action against Vecchione," he said. "To the contrary. He seems to ignore everything that happened. And an innocent man has been in jail for 16 years."

In his complaint in the case, Rudin cited 56 cases of prosecutorial misconduct in Brooklyn stretching from the mid 1980s to last year. These cases demonstrate, he wrote, "Mr. Hynes's continuous, deliberate indifference to similar misconduct in other cases," and show "direct evidence of unlawful office-wide policy and practice."

Hynes has repeatedly promoted Vecchione over the years, including after the problems with the Collins prosecution came to light.

Brooklyn City Councilman Lewis Fidler, who was Hynes's campaign manager in his first run, in 1989, says much of the criticism of his old boss is unfair. "You just named half a dozen cases—how many felonies do you think he handled in that period? You need to judge the man by the body of his work."

There is no doubt that the volume of cases in Hynes's office makes "screwups" inevitable. But the patterns that emerge from the "body of his work" are increasingly difficult to ignore. As one Brooklyn elected official puts it, "The office has become stale, insular, and arguably corrupt in the manner in which it selectively pursues certain prosecutions but declines to pursue others."

As a prosecutor, Hynes is supposed to be aloof from politics, above pandering to the mob or the media. But he has frequently been criticized for doing just that. Take, for example, the case of former city child-abuse case workers Chereece Bell and Damon Adams.

Bell and Adams were responsible for overseeing the family of four-year-old Marchella Pierce. When Pierce died in 2010 as a result of years of neglect, Hynes charged her mother and grandmother with murder and manslaughter respectively. The case became a major story, and the media and public outcry grew over whether the entire city child-welfare system itself was also at fault.

Even though no caseworker had ever been charged in the death of someone in the system, Hynes convened a grand jury in 2011 and indicted Bell and Adams for criminally negligent homicide. They had, he said, failed so egregiously to do their jobs, the girl had died. "Baby Marchella might be alive today had these [Administration for Children's Services] workers attended to her case with the basic levels of care it deserved," he said at the time.

To some, it appeared he was caving in to public pressure. "Hynes is pandering for political reasons," says Anthony Wells, of Local 371, the union that represents caseworkers, during a December 14 hearing. "All these two people did is go to work and do their best in a difficult environment."

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