Jabbar Collins’s lawsuit against the city and state for his 16-year wrongful imprisonment has been a groundbreaking case. The case forced former Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes to testify under oath about misconduct in his office for the first time. It led to the telling deposition of top prosecutor Michael Vecchione, who answered “I don’t recall” more than 300 times during questioning. Former Brooklyn Detective Louis Scarcella was one of the next witnesses on the list. Other high level criminal justice officials may have followed.
The trial was scheduled for October. It was setting up to be a spectacle, with a parade of powerful men taking the stand to answer questions about their roles in the city’s wrongful convictions.
But instead, the case has come to a close. On Tuesday, New York City agreed to pay Collins a $10 million settlement.
That comes about month after the state reached a $3 million settlement with Collins, who is 42.
Collins had been convicted of a 1994 murder. A judge vacated his conviction in 2010, after finding evidence of prosecutorial misconduct.
In recent months, Collins’s lawyer Joel Rudin expressed that he was seeking to get his client a settlement of around $16 million, $1 million for every year behind bars. That’s how much the city paid the Central Park Five in June.
The city’s settlement with Collins shows that the Central Park Five amount will not be standard. Still, the payout is much more than the city paid David Ranta, who got $6.4 million last year for his 23-year wrongful imprisonment.
Jonathan Fleming, who was released last year after a 24-year wrongful imprisonment, sued the city for $162 million in June. Other suits are likely to come. This Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson has dismissed the convictions of seven men who had been locked up since the ’80s and ’90s.
The Collins case is only the start of the legal scrutiny.
In September, Scarcella is scheduled to testify in a hearing that will determine whether Shabaka Shakur was wrongfully convicted in 1988.
Next: background on Collins’s conviction and release.
See Also: The Jabbar Collins Case is Far From Over
Collins was arrested and convicted for the 1994 murder of Rabbi Abraham Pollack. Witnesses identified him as the shooter. Collins maintained his innocence. He appealed his conviction. In prison, he worked on his case and studied legal books. He sent many public records requests to the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office and he tracked down the witness who had implicated him.
One day in 2003, he called the witness, Adrian Diaz. Collins pretended that he was an investigator at the D.A.’s office. Diaz said that he testified against Collins in a deal to keep his probation from being revoked. Collins recorded that conversation
He reached out to another witness, Edwin Oliva. Olivia admitted that police officers had written the witness statement and he had signed it to avoid facing charges in another crime.
In 2010, one of Collins’ records requests produced a document showing that Olivia had recanted his statement before the trial. Then he met with prosecutors and detectives, and at the trial his testimony matched his original statement implicating Collins.
Prosecutors, however, did not tell the defense attorney about the recantation. Federal judge Dora Irizarry called for a hearing to look into the possible prosecutorial misconduct. At the hearing another witness, Angel Santos, claimed that he only testified against Collins after lead prosecutor Michael Vecchione began “yelling at me and telling me he was going to hit me over the head with some coffee table.”
After Santos’ testimony at the hearing, the D.A. Charles Hynes dropped the legal fight against Collins’ appeal, but maintained that Collins was guilty. Irizarry overturned the convictions.
Only years later, in 2014, testifying under oath for Collins’ civil rights lawsuit and out of office, did Hynes say that he believed that Collins was innocent.
Next: the transcript of the 2010 ruling that freed Collins.
Jabbar Collins Release Order 2010 by asamahavv
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on August 20, 2014