CONCOURSE, the Bronx — His case has now become a global call to action, but if the action doesn’t proceed at its current pace, an honors student being held on Rikers Island stands to lose a lot.
Pedro Hernandez, 17, is charged with attempted murder in a shooting case from last year, and has been behind bars in a Rikers Island juvenile facility ever since. Even though the victim in the case has said that Hernandez is not the shooter, the Bronx teen remains in lockup on $250,000 cash bail pending his trial. If Hernandez does not come up with bail in the next month, he faces losing a rare shot at a full-ride scholarship to college, after he completed high school with honors while incarcerated.
The extent of that potential loss the administrators of the scholarship spelled out on Monday. What’s also becoming more clear is that Hernandez’s plight is appealing to a growing number of people worldwide, who continue to give significantly toward the teen scholar’s bail. Also emerging is additional evidence supporting Hernandez’s claims of innocence, for which he refuses to accept a plea deal.
Among the evidence are statements from the shooting victim that not only show that Hernandez was not the gunman, they also indicate that the victim was intimidated by detectives to blame the Bronx teen.
“He said, ‘Stop playing around [or] he punch my head into a wall,” the victim said on video about detectives at the 42nd precinct, according to private investigator Manuel Gomez, who tracked down and got the statement from the victim, whose name PIX11 is withholding to protect his identity.
The victim also said that he was detained at length by detectives after his injuries healed, and that two NYPD investigators in particular, David Terrell and Daniel Brady, got him to say that Hernandez was the gunman. “I [was] trying to tell him what he wanted to hear,” the victim said in his on-camera statement to Gomez about the detectives who had questioned him.
Both detectives, Terrell in particular, have multiple civilian complaints against them. Among other infractions, Terrell was captured on video last year shooting craps over whether or not to release an arrestee in his squad car.
In further refutation of the accounts by detectives, Gomez obtained surveillance video from the apartment building where Hernandez lived. According to Gomez, the video was recorded at the same time as the shooting. It shows Hernandez, in a bright white hooded parka, red pants and flip flops, bringing groceries into the building for his mother.
That mother, Jessica Perez, told PIX11 News that she is proud of the way her son has conducted himself and inspired others while he’s behind bars.
“At the age of 17,” Perez told PIX11 News in a phone interview, “my son has told me that no matter who you go against,” if you believe in yourself, “you will get anything you want in life.”
Both she and her son have expressed deep gratitude and surprise at the outpouring of financial support in Hernandez’s case. As of early Tuesday morning, the crowdsourcing account that Hernandez’s family opened had raised just short of $100,000 of his quarter million dollars bail.
“It’s not just the financial support,” Perez said, “it’s the [written] messages, of support and understanding” that also help, she told PIX11 News.
The support is for Hernandez and his family in the wake of him choosing to not accept a plea deal offered by the Bronx District Attorney’s Office earlier this summer. In the rejected agreement, Hernandez would have had to admit guilt in exchange for five years’ probation, after which his record would have been cleared of the attempted murder charge.
“I feel like it’s a trap,” Hernandez said in a phone interview with PIX11 News last Friday, “so the [importance] of not taking the plea deal is standing up for what’s right, and standing up for your rights,” he said.
In exchange for his making a stand, Hernandez potentially has a lot to lose. He’s been nominated for a Posse Foundation scholarship.
“It is a huge honor,” said Shreya Malena-Sannon, the foundation’s New York director.
“It means that somebody in this person’s life — usually public school guidance counselors, teachers or a community based organization — saw something special in them,” she said by phone about nominees for the scholarship, of whom Hernandez is one of about 3,500.
“[The student] has academic and leadership potential,” Malena-Sannon added.
Hernandez is one of very few nominees, however, who has qualified while in jail, in a high school equivalency program where he also tutored other inmates. Hernandez not only did it to enhance his knowledge, said private investigator Gomez, who is also a mentor to the teen, “He was in massive depression and wanted to die at one point,” when he was first arrested.
“I didn’t want him to become another Kalief Browder,” Gomez said, referring to the man who spent three years on Rikers Island, mostly in solitary confinement, awaiting trial after having been accused of stealing a backpack. The case was ultimately dropped, but two years after his 2013 release, Browder committed suicide.
Gomez advised Hernandez to get involved in the high school equivalency and tutoring program at Rikers. “I told him, ‘It’ll get you twelve hours a day out of the general jail population,'” Gomez told PIX11 News.
“He took my advice and did so well,”said Gomez, “he became a leader.”
New York Daily News columnist and social media influencer Shaun King championed Hernandez’s plight, and last week King called on his over two million followers on Facebook and Twitter to contribute to Hernandez’s bail payment in order for the Bronx teen to be released in time to participate in the next rounds of the Posse scholarship application process.
Those individual and group interviews begin in late August, according to Malena-Sannon.
At the current rate of giving, Hernandez could make his $250,000 bail by early August. As of early Tuesday morning, Hernandez had raised 38 percent of the money needed to post bail.
Hernandez also has a trial date set for Sept. 6.