The Most Amazing Wrongful Conviction Story You’ll Read Today

Friday, January 14th, 2011

It’s about a month old, but this Wall Street Journal article about Jabbar Collins, wrongly convicted for killing Rabbi Abraham Pollack in New York City in 1994, is equal parts inspiring, jaw-dropping, and infuriating. After his conviction, Collins spent his 15 years in prison teaching himself law in the prison library; then filing, re-filing, and appealing requests for information about his case; then finally breaking his case open by getting a witness to admit he had lied . . . while Collins posed as an investigator for the prosecution. Collins’ tenacity, resourcefulness, and determination in the face of long odds are inspiring. But the dark side of the article is the sheer mendacity of prosecutor Michael Vecchione (who of course has since been promoted to the appropriate-sounding title of the Brooklyn DA’s “chief of the rackets division”), the obstinacy of trial judge Robert Holdman, and the general indifference of the criminal justice system that put Collins away.

Excerpts don’t do the article justice, but here a few bullet points from the story worth emphasizing:

  • Vecchione said at trial that none of the eyewitnesses who testified agaisnt Collins at trial received any reward for their testimony. As it turns out, all of them did.
  • The man the prosecution claimed called 911 to report Pollack’s death, a “24 hour” drug user who later identified Collins at trial, tried to recant just before trial. That, he says, is when Vecchione began “yelling at me and telling me he was going to hit me over the head with some coffee table.” The Journal reports that the man was “threatened with prosecution, then locked up for a week as a material witness. When he agreed to testify, he said, he was taken from jail to a Holiday Inn, which he described as ‘paradise.'”
  • When Collins’ information requests hit a dead end, he posed as a DA investigator and managed to get a witness to divulge that he had been rewarded for his testimony. Instead of focusing on the perjury and prosecutorial misconduct, Jude Holdman, “dismissed the appeal, declaring it to be ‘wholly without merit, conclusory, incredible, unsubstantiated, and, in significant part, to be predicated on a foundation of fraud.'” The Journal article adds, “For good measure, he barred Mr. Collins from filing future requests for information.”
  • When Federal District Court Judge Dora Izirarry called for a hearing to hear from the witnesses who had recanted, Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes defended Vecchione. When it became clear Collins had a case, Hynes’ office dropped the charges and freed Collins. But they couldn’t resist a final kick to the teeth, adding that the office’s “position, then and now, was that we believe in this defendant’s guilt.”

Collins now works as a paralegal in the office of the defense attorney who eventually helped him with his case. He has filed a civil rights suit against New York City, but Vecchione of course has absolute immunity. Which means he’ll get to keep prosecuting people. One of the people he won’t be prosecuting? Rabbi Abraham Pollack’s actual killer, who likely remains free.

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15 Responses to “The Most Amazing Wrongful Conviction Story You’ll Read Today”

  1. #1 |  Andrew S. | 

    Since I’d like to look at positives once in a while among a sea of Radley’s nutkick articles, I can only say a hearty thank you to Judge Iziarry for her seemingly uncommon devotion to the law, and to actual justice instead of blind punishment.

  2. #2 |  Steve Verdon | 

    Typical…when you read stories like this one has to wonder how vigilantism can be any worse.

  3. #3 |  AndrĂ© | 

    And of course, he gets nothing for what would have been 15 productive years of his life that were flushed down the toilet by Michael Vecchione.

    At least Collins wasn’t executed.

  4. #4 |  Michael Chaney | 

    I agree, Andrew. Note that if not for that single honest person Collins would likely still be rotting in prison.

  5. #5 |  SJE | 

    Good to see the WSJ covering this. If the injustice doesn’t motivate people to change the system (it hasn’t), I wonder if the cost will.

    I hope that WSJ can also do a follow up from the perspective of this as political kickbacks and corruption. How much this cost the people of NY? The real killer is loose, a man did 15 years, an array of “witnesses” were rewarded for lying, and the government officials got promoted. It must be in the millions. If this was a real-estate or government contract scam, where some poor schmoe lost his business, others got what they wanted, and govt officials got promoted, there would be an outcry, and people would lose their jobs. Why is the “Justice” system immune from similar investigation and punishment?

    Here is another idea: is this the case to challenge prosecutorial and judicial immunity. A state level official would be a better place to start than the feds.

  6. #6 |  CyniCAl | 

    No decent person could associate with Vecchione after reading this. Anyone who associates with him now — anyone — is as big a scumbag as he is.

    If my own child behaved the way Vecchione did, and were unrepentant, I would never speak to him/her again for as long as I lived.

    The unwillingness to disassociate is a major factor in the perpetuation of systemic violence.

  7. #7 |  Dave Krueger | 

    Yeah, I know it looks bad, but it’s probably just all coincidence.

  8. #8 |  Mattocracy | 

    @ #6

    Yes, I agree. Too many people don’t hold their own accountable. But when your peers are also scumbags, what do you expect? People don’t become adults with a skewed moral compass with having grown up that way first.

  9. #9 |  Pablo | 

    Yet another example of a double standard applied to private citizen vs. law enforcement. It’s OK for an undercover cop to lie out of his teeth, but God help a wrongfully convicted private citizen who does the same.

  10. #10 |  Eunice | 

    Brooklyn DA ‘did not know’ of Schiro’s G-man tapes

    Tuesday, November 6th 2007, 4:00 AM
    Brooklyn prosecutor Mike Vecchione said district attorney’s office didn’t know of Linda Schiro’s ‘inconsistent stories’ about murders.
    Brooklyn prosecutor Mike Vecchione said district attorney’s office didn’t know of Linda Schiro’s ‘inconsistent stories’ about murders.
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    * Prosecutor will probe mob moll perjury
    * Schiro’s no liar says ex-detective
    * Basking in end of ordeal
    * Case against DeVecchio tossed
    * Tapes: Mob moll made it up

    Mike Vecchione wants to set the record straight.

    The Brooklyn prosecutor who brought murder charges against ex-FBI agent Lindley DeVecchio – only to see his star witness discredited – says the district attorney’s office didn’t know she changed her story about some gangland hits.

    “We did not know about her inconsistent stories regarding these four murders,” Vecchione said Monday. “I’ve been prosecuting cases for 30 years and I’ve never done something like that in my life.”

    Vecchione said prosecutors were unaware of the taped conversations between mob moll Linda Schiro and reporters Jerry Capeci and Tom Robbins in 1997 about DeVecchio and murders committed by her longtime boyfriend Gregory Scarpa Sr.

    “The tapes, according to what we originally learned, had Linda essentially clearing DeVecchio in at least two of the murders,” Vecchione said, referring to the murders of Lorenzo Lampasi and Joseph (Joe Brewster) DeDomenico.

    “In those cases, she definitively says he [DeVecchio] had nothing to do with the murders,” Vecchione said. “Now that’s a completely different story than what we knew early on and when we went into trial. We were never told about that. Nor were we ever told the tapes existed.”

    Vecchione spoke to me because, he said, he wanted to dispute some things I’d written in this space yesterday.

    In that column, I quoted former NYPD detective and Brooklyn DA investigator Tommy Dades as saying that if Schiro was indicted for perjury that he and former Brooklyn Assistant District Attorney Noel Downey intended to testify on her behalf.

    “I’m not defending anyone,” Dades had told me. “But I will go to the grand jury and tell the truth. And the truth is that she [Schiro] informed me and Noel Downey about all the inconsistent stories before this case started …

    “I can’t say that District Attorney [Charles] Hynes knew this because I never discussed this case with him. The highest-ranking person I spoke with … was Mike Vecchione.”

    Dades told me those inconsistent stories included details about the murders Schiro attributed to DeVecchio on the witness stand.

    “If the question that you’re asking is if Linda Schiro ever told us about the murders in the past, in 2005, and told us that she had given inconsistent statements relevant to those murders, the answer is yes,” Dades said.

    So the DA’s office knew she lied about those murders to writers, including Robbins and Capeci?

    “Yes,” Dades said.

    And then she told a different story on the stand about those same murders?

    “Yes,” Dades said.

    Not true, Vecchione says.

    “We knew she had given inconsistent stories earlier …,” Vecchione said. “She went from telling absolutely nothing to essentially saying that Greg Scarpa had given information regarding informants to DeVecchio. But she never discussed any murders …

    “The only conflicting stories she told was the absence of evidence regarding three of the four murders. Not conflicting stories about the three murders. And there’s a big difference.”

    Vecchione said he feels the DA’s office did the right thing by withdrawing the charges after the tapes surfaced.

    “I have no regrets about that,” he said. “I do resent the implication that I dropped the ball or that I am some kind of irresponsible or unethical prosecutor. I’m not.”

    He also still thinks DeVecchio is guilty.

    “Yes, I absolutely do,” he said. “… I do believe Linda Schiro told the truth on the stand. But as far as this office is concerned, unless someone comes forward with something else, this prosecution is over.”

  11. #11 |  Brooks | 

    I disagree that the real killer “likely remains free.” If this was indeed a stranger killing, then the killer is likely in or has likely been to prison since then.

    I simply don’t believe that the sort of person who kills a stranger and gets away with it is the sort of person who manages to stay out of prison for the rest of his life. And with draconian sentencing the norm, the real killer may even spend as much or more time in prison as Collins.

  12. #12 |  Bob | 

    What would be the point of being an honest, scrupled prosecutor? You’ll be destroyed in ‘job performance’ by the first dirt bag that comes along. Your boss sure as hell won’t care, he just wants convictions.

    The same thing for an honest Police Investigator. Why? You clear more cases by bending the rules, and there’s little personal risk.

    The system just breeds corruption. Immunity has to stop.

  13. #13 |  Whim | 

    Unless a person is a regular reader of the Wall Street Journal, I suspect most think that the newspaper is ultra-conservative.

    That IS true of its editorial page, which is uniformly pro-business, anti-union, and quite conservative.

    However, their page 1 major articles can be very human-interest related. I’ve read any number that had a major human-interest bent, like the aforementioned article about Jabbar Collins fighting for 15 years against a dreadfully wrongful conviction.

    Wonder how many others similarly framed by ambitious and unscrupulous prosecutors allied with dishonest and lazy police are rotting tonight in prison cells all over America.

    Without hope………………

  14. #14 |  Joe | 

    If prosecutors could face civil liability for reckless or intentional wrongdoing a lot of this would go away (or at least there would be a remedy). Why not. Private lawyers have to maintain malpractice insurance. Why not prosecutors?

  15. #15 |  Diane Seltzer | 

    WHY WHY WHY??? Because we all allow this to happen and pretend that our legal system is looking out for citizens…It is not about liberty and justice for all and certainly not about the truth…It is about conviction rates, pumping up promotions, and filling the prisons that by the way are bursting…The truth is usually there to be found and certainly way way before 15 years of fighting through legal barriers to the truth…In many cases a simple DNA test holds the answer…try to get that done!! Wake up to the truth and help fight wrongful convictions before it affects you or someone you love. FREEPAULCORTEZ.ORG