Queens DA moves to dismiss indictments against 3 men convicted in 1996 murders

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QUEENS — The Queens DA’s office moved Friday to dismiss the indictments against three men convicted in a 1996 murder of an NYPD officer and another man over what it calls exculpatory evidence that was not disclosed to the defendants at trial.

George Bell, Gary Johnson and Rohan Bolt were convicted in the Dec. 21, 1996 murders of Ira “Mike” Epstein and NYPD Police Officer Charles Davis, but earlier this year, the DA’s office vacated the convictions against the men after new information came to light.

A judge released Bell, Johnson and Bolt on their own recognizance on March 5 while prosecutors reexamined the case.

An investigation found that an account from another man who implicated himself and his fellow gang members in the killings, as well as the mental health records of someone who implicated Bell, Johnson and Bolt, were not turned over to defense lawyers, officials said back in March.

Friday, Queens Executive Assistant DA Pishoy Yacoub said investigators discovered new findings that casted doubt on the indictments against the three men.

Yacoub, staff and law enforcement partners sifted through documents, reanalyzed forensic evidence, reexamined video evidence and conducted dozens of interviews during their investigation.

They found that eyewitness testimony and evidence collection didn’t match up with details obtained during the confession. For example, the defendants said they were in a red van, though it was a blue van identified by witnesses and later recovered by police — and DNA evidence in the blue van did not match with the defendants.

Plus, an additional defendant confessed to having a role in the crime as a getaway driver, though it was later determined that his confession was false, though that information was not presented to the defendants at trial. The detective who secured that confession had a pending lawsuit over an alleged coerced confession stemming from another trial, which was later settled. That information was also withheld from the defendants at trial.

In April of this year, longtime prosecutor Brad Leventhal resigned from the Queens District Attorney’s office after a recent case raised questions about misconduct. 

A judge said prosecutors held back information in what was an “egregious” “miscarriage of justice.”

Leventhal stepped down from his role in the Queens DA office this week after pressure from community advocates, including Councilman I. Daneek Miller. 

The Office of District Attorney Melinda Katz did not comment on Leventhal’s resignation at the time but told PIX11 in a statement, “Cases like these are exactly why District Attorney Katz created the Conviction Integrity Unit immediately after taking office. For decades, these men sought unsuccessfully to have their convictions overturned. But it wasn’t until the CIU’s investigation uncovered constitutional violations that justice moved forward, resulting in the vacated convictions of George Bell, Gary Johnson and Rohan Bolt. There is now an on-going investigation to determine whether to vacate the indictments or proceed to prosecute. The results will be presented to the Court on June 4, 2021.”

It was that June 4 date — Friday — that the office issued a People’s Dismissal Motion moving to toss the indictments against the men.

A legal expert told PIX11 in April: “The wrongdoing…was deliberate in this case.”

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