NEW YORK (PIX11) — The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office on Tuesday filed a motion to dismiss the murder charge against bodega worker Jose Alba.
Alba, 61, fatally stabbed a man during a July 1 altercation inside the Hamilton Heights bodega where he works, maintaining since that he acted in self-defense.
Though the office of Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg initially stood by its case while continuing to investigate, prosecutors ultimately agreed that a murder charge could not be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
“Following an investigation, the People have determined that we cannot prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant was not justified in his use of deadly physical force,” wrote Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Sigall in a motion to dismiss the charge.
The murder rap was the sole charge filed against Alba. The bodega worker “looks forward to moving about freely and spending time with his family,” a spokesperson for Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem, the group representing Alba, said.
“With this dismissal Mr. Alba is now disentangled from the legal system, which is always our ultimate goal,” the spokesperson said.
The deadly run-in that saw Alba face the charge in the first place began with a verbal altercation between Alba and a customer whose EBT card was declined while she shopped with her 10-year-old daughter, police have said. Shortly after the woman objected to Alba purportedly snatching a snack out of her daughter’s hand, her boyfriend entered the store, according to authorities.
That man, Austin Simon, confronted Alba behind the counter, shoving him into a chair and appearing to yell at him in a scene caught on surveillance video. Cornered in the chair, Alba grabbed a knife and repeatedly stabbed the 35-year-old Simon, killing him, according to authorities.
Alba has consistently maintained that he acted in self-defense, and alleged that he in turn was stabbed by Simon’s girlfriend, who has not been charged with a crime.
Police arrested Alba on a murder charge and he was initially held on $250,000 bail for nearly a week before prosecutors requested a lower amount amid fierce public backlash. A judge agreed to drop the bail to $50,000 and Alba was released.
But the United Bodegas of America and Yemeni American Merchants Association continued to lobby for the charge to be dropped, emerging from a meeting with Bragg last week confident that the case would ultimately be scuttled.
Noting that under state law prosecutors must prove that a defendant claiming self-defense was not justified in their actions, Sigall wrote that the DA’s office would be unable to do so beyond a reasonable doubt.
Prosecutors specifically looked at two different possible self-defense justifications: Reasonable belief on the part of Alba that Simon was about to use deadly physical force against him, and reasonable belief that Simon had trespassed behind the bodega’s counter with the intent to commit a crime.
To the former argument, prosecutors noted both the age and height differences between the 6-foot tall, 35-year-old Simon and the 5-foot-7, 61-year-old Alba, as well as an alleged threat by Simon’s girlfriend that Simon was going to assault Alba.
To the latter, prosecutors noted that one is permitted to use deadly physical force under state law if they reasonably believe it’s necessary to prevent a burglary, which in turn is defined as entering an occupied building with the intent to commit a crime. As the area behind the bodega’s counter is not open to the general public, going into it could be reasonably argued by Alba’s attorney to be a burglary.