Criminal Justice

Exonerated Brooklyn Man Got Just Eight Months of Freedom After 23 Years in Prison

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In 1989 William Lopez was convicted of killing Elvirn Surria, a Brooklyn crack dealer, with a shotgun while robbing him. Since there was no physical evidence linking Lopez to the murder, the Kings County District Attorney's Office relied on the testimony of two eyewitnesses. One was a courier for Surria whose description of the gunman did not match Lopez and who could not point him out in court. The other was a crack addict facing a drug charge who agreed to testify against Lopez in exchange for lenient treatment and later recanted.

Last January, responding to a habeas corpus petition filed by Lopez, a federal judge overturned his conviction, calling the prosecutor "overzealous and deceitful," the defense attorneys "indolent and ill prepared," the trial judge's decisions "incomprehensible," and the jury's verdict "bewildering." Lopez was released from prison a week later. On Saturday morning, The New York Post reports, he died of an asthma attack at the age of 55, having enjoyed eight months of freedom after serving 23 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. Lopez had filed a lawsuit against New York City, seeking $124 million in damages. The trial was supposed to begin this week. 

There seem to have been more than a few trumped-up convictions under Charles Hynes, the long-serving Brooklyn district attorney who was succeeded this year by Kenneth P. Thompson. Thompson established a Conviction Review Unit that is examining about 100 cases, including 57 based on work by a legendary detective, Louis Scarcella, "whose methods have come under attack" (as The New York Times delicately puts it). Summarizing half a dozen exonerations resulting from reviews under Thompson, the Times reports that two were "based on DNA evidence," three were based on the unreliability of testimony by "a crack-addicted witness who was frequently used by Mr. Scarcella," and "the sixth was based on a receipt and police reports showing that the defendant was, as he had always claimed, in Florida during the murder."

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  1. Truth, Justice, and the American Way.

  2. calling the prosecutor “overzealous and deceitful,” the defense attorneys “indolent and ill prepared,” the trial judge’s decisions “incomprehensible,”

    And they both are now serving 23 year sentences in general population, right? Right?

    1. Beat me to it. Prosecutors and judges who send innocent people to prison should face prosecution for criminal professional misconduct. If they are found guilty, they get to serve the same time the innocent person did.

      1. Laws are for the little people. They don’t even try to hide this any longer.

    2. I envy your ability to still fake optimism.

    3. Fuck 23 years. That’s not enough of a deterrent. Life sentences, no parole. And not in gen pop, in ADX Florence. Directing the kidnapping and torture of multiple people for decades? They’re dangerous.

  3. Fuck, how sad is it that him dying of an asthma attach is actually sort of a happy surprise?

    I was sure – this being Reason – that the kicker was going to be that that they retried him. Or that they killed him during a SWAT raid to bring him in for further questioning.

    It sure sucks though that you can get a jury to convict a guy on such shitty evidence. I was on a jury this summer that acquitted a guy of 1st degree murder because the “witnesses” were all sociopathic liars and there wasn’t any physical evidence tying anyone to the crime.

    1. So…dish!

      1. This is the link to the trial: http://www.startribune.com/loc…..88792.html

        The saddest part of the story is that the victim was really blameless. An old guy who took too much cold medicine so he decided to take a nap in his car. Someone came by and shot him 3 times. Then the someone ran off because they were scared that the shots had been heard.

        What isn’t in dispute is that the defendant and some of the other “witnesses” came back later and robbed the body of the victim.

        The defendant was a pot dealer in a shitty apartment complex near where the victim was shot. Also in the complex were 5 or so guys who were in a crappy gang. The cops found the gun on one of the gangsters, it belonged to another of the gangsters. However, all the gangsters said that the defendant borrowed it to go rob someone.

        1. There was no physical evidence. The only reason that they even had a suspect is because they found the murder weapon during a traffic stop. It was after repeated questioning of the gangsters that they fingered the defendant.

          From sitting on the jury, it was really strange trying to figure out why they charged the defendant in the first place.

          During the trial, they brought in the gangsters to testify and they were all such horrible liars that you couldn’t trust anything they said. I mean they lied about everything.

          1. I was an alternate, so I got dismissed when it was time to deliberate. It only took them a short while to acquit the guy, so it wasn’t just me who felt that the case was really weak.

            I also missed out on these shenanigans: http://www.startribune.com/loc…..50651.html

            The bailiff who was supposed to be keeping the jury sequestered during their deliberations told the jury on their way back that they had fucked up.

            The story doesn’t say who the deputy was, but I’m sure I know who it was based on watching them during the trial. She was a cunt to everyone.

            It was especially appalling because like I said you felt bad because it seemed like the victim wasn’t getting justice.

  4. Shameful. The people responsible for taking away Mr. Lopez’s freedom should spend an equal amount of time in prison.

    1. Prison is for the little people.

      1. Well then here’s hoping those responsible also suffer natural deaths soon.

        1. Excuse what I said. I was speaking out of anger.

          1. If your desire is born out of concern for resource degradation and environmental destruction due to overpopulation, then wishing death on one person doesn’t actually go far enough. Multiply that by a billion or so.

      2. That must be why the bars are so close together. So those shifty midget criminals don’t escape.

  5. Perhaps there should be criminal penalties for cops, prosecutors, and/or judges that, through intentional misconduct or criminal neglect, persecute innocent people.

    1. I see I’m not alone.

  6. In law school, we often wondered what percentage of proof equaled “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Apparently, it’s something less than 50%.

    1. You see, a cop has to have probable cause to make an arrest. And on top of that, a prosecutor must be sure he’s got the right guy to even take it to trial. Therefore, a criminal prosecution has alr day surpassed the reasonable doubt threshold before it’s even reached a courtroom.

      -typical American idiot

      1. Well, let’s say probable cause is 50% guilty right off the bat. Then a prosecutor deciding to prosecute must be, given their busy schedules and limited resources, another 25%. And if the judge allows the trial to go to verdict, that’s another 20%. The last four percent depends on the facts presented to the jury.

        See how that works?

        1. I notice how your math equals up,to 99%. I take it you’re part of the 1%!that thinks they’re above the law.

          -progtard

          1. I was hoping you wouldn’t notice. The last one percent is the tax paid to the man.

    2. A defense lawyer friend once told me “Beyond a reasonable doubt never comes into it. It just depends on what the judge believes”.

      I asked him about it because I had sat through court for several days ( I used to court watch for fun) and saw a judge convict every single person who was charged. Most of them on very questionable grounds.

      Also, the court appointed defense set up a card table and had all of her clients line up. She spent less than a minute with each. She just repeated over and over ” Plead guilty and throw yourself on the mercy of the court. Next.”

      1. One of my law professors referred to the court-appointed defense bar as, and I quote verbatim, “a whorehouse.”

        1. I worked for a defense attorney on the appointment panel in Los Angeles for about a year. He was heads and tails the best attorney I ever worked for. Tireless, aggressive, zealous. In the year I worked with him, he won a not-guilty verdict for an accused murderer by the judge (nearly unheard of) and a not-guilty verdict for an accused Medicare fraudster (also extremely difficult due to the expansive definition of “fraud” in federal law).

    3. You, sir, are a horrible person.

      How can you doubt the cleanly-shaven detective in his best suit, soberly laying out in excruciating detail how the defendant raped and then killed the victim?

      He’s very humbled by the evidence he uncovered. He simply cannot believe the inhumanity of the defendant’s actions, that anybody could do anything that horrible is beyond his comprehension despite his 23 years of experience on the city’s homicide squad.

      Your inability to believe this man — who clearly feels for the victim, can practically feel the punishment the defendant meted out against her — is distressing. You’re even ignoring the risks he goes through to keep YOU and YOUR FAMILY safe, no less… shameful.

      (To be clear to anybody’s whose sarcasm detector is off today, I’m being sarcastic.)

  7. The problem is that “we the people” expect “the system” to reform itself. That’s never going to happen. While there are a good many people that work in the judicial system that are committed to “doing the right thing”, there are far too many others that are simply risk-averse, careerist fucks. Both the “good” people, and the “careerist fucks” eat in the same restaurants, belong to the same country club, and hang out at the same charity events, so it’s not surprising that nobody in “the system” is going after those who do wrong from within the system. Expecting the system to fix itself is crazy.

    Anyone who knowingly fabricates evidence, excludes exculpatory evidence, gives false testimony, etc, and causes an innocent person to be imprisoned, should be very afraid of the repercussions. They’re not, because there are no repercussions. We’ve turned into a nation of pussies, and most of you wouldn’t do a fucking thing even if it were your own father being wrongly convicted and the DA laughed in your face about it, while describing how your dad was going to be ass-raped. You wouldn’t do shit, and that’s the problem. 99% of people think they’re too important to die for a cause, or that no cause is worth dying for.

    1. But Tony told me that “the system” is self-regulating because of elections.

      1. Well yes, there’s that. You DO have a choice in which incompetent careerist fuck you vote for.

    2. No point in dying for a futile cause. You’re not going to start a trend by killing a piece of shit DA. If anything you’ll make things worse by inspiring more privileges granted to DAs in effort to prevent someone else from following in your example. Meanwhile another piece of shit takes his place because that work is a shit magnet.

  8. The trial was supposed to begin this week.

    I wonder how difficult it is to induce a fatal asthma attack.

    1. I thought I was being paranoid, so I didn’t bring it up.

    2. Why would the players in this tragedy try to kill him? It’s notmas if they’re gonna be held financially or criminally liable for what they did 23 years ago. for all they care, the taxpayers can pay for their misdeeds over and over.

    3. Can his estate continue the lawsuit? Or is this one of those things that gets extinguished upon death?

  9. I know some have called for violence against the perpetrators of this miscarriage of justice and then apologized.

    As for me, I hope anyone involved in the deliberate and malicious prosecution of an innocent man or woman gets beaten to death with iron pipes over a period of several days. I will not apologize for saying or thinking this and I don’t believe it’s a violation of the NAP to do so, as these state actors have violated a public trust and are subject to fair punishment. And in my opinion, thempanalty I propose is fair.

    1. It’s not the place of a just society to wreak vengeance on the perpetrator. Punishment should be fairly adjudicated and swiftly executed. In this instance, might I recommend taking a hand for negligence, or both if the perpetrator acted willfully.

      1. Uhh, I don’t see how this case could have been put forth “negligently” by the prosecutor.

        No physical evidence, one witness can’t identify the accused, the other is a crack addict selling testimony (who later recanted).

        There’s just no way that gets put in front of a jury “negligently”. The conversations with the crack addict alone point to knowing and intentional. Somebody had to tell him what to say, after all.

      2. I believe a just punishment is to wreak vengeance on a perpetrator that willingly,participates in the enslavement of another human being. And punishing someone for a crime they didn’t commit by imprisoning them for,23 years is very much a form of,slavery.

        A violent death is exactly what a just punish,net is for the willing participants in this circumstance. And it,just might prevent further abuses like this as an added benefit.

      3. I would be more interested ripping out his soul through his grundle region

    2. Sounds good, but who’s stepping up to the plate to administer this punishment? Hell, Lopez himself served 23 years in prison for a crime he did not commit, and what did he do when he got out? He had 23 years to plan the perfect revenge killing, and he decides to cash-out instead. Pussy. His relatives? Nothing…just hoping the lawsuit goes through. Time will tell, but I’ll bet anything that the DA who sent Lopez away dies a natural death after a comfortable retirement.

      I’ll change my mind when someone shows me an elaborate plan detailing how Lopez was planning to build a multimillion dollar Rube Goldberg death robot with which to kill everyone involved.

      1. I’d gladly sign up to be the hangman for those that perpetrate crimes like these in the name of the state. And I’m willing to bet I wouldn’t be the first in line.

  10. and who could not point him out in court

    I have no trial experience beyond Law and Order. What is the real expectation here? That because of fear of be prosecuted for lying, a lie which apparently would be very difficult to prove since they’re asking the question in the first place, that I’m not going to point out the person in the cheap suit next to the defense attorney unless I know that it’s the right person?

    1. It is a bit bizarre. You would think the prosecutor would have coached that bit.

      It’s not like he would ever have anything to fear from the prosecutor for lying under oath…

  11. I’m pretty sure there’s something wrong with the incentive structure in the justice system.

    1. Actually it’s a feature

  12. Wow, the justice system in Mississippi is sure screwed up…

    (re-reads post)

    oh, shit, nobody is safe!

  13. My comment in no way trying to offer an apologia for scumbag prosecutors or trial judges who routinely shoveled people’s lives down the toilet for convenience…

    but: NYC in 1989

    as they say, “shit happened”.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if they routinely sent people up the river for life just to put some positive stats on the ‘crime fighting’ board. The sad thing would be – that wouldn’t even be scratching the surface of the fucked up things that went on back then.

  14. Why was William Lopez arrested in the first place?

    1. In 1989, two men entered a crack house in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, and demanded money and drugs from a dealer named Elvirn Surria. One of the intruders shot and killed Mr. Surria with a double-barreled shotgun. They left no murder weapon or forensic evidence at the scene, so the prosecution relied on two witnesses who had been there.

      One was Daisy Flores Lopez, who worked as a courier at the crack house. She testified that the gunman was a “tall, dark, black man” about six feet three inches in height. Mr. Lopez is more than half a foot shorter and has light skin. In one hearing, which was conducted outside the presence of the jury, a prosecutor asked Ms. Flores Lopez to look around the courtroom and identify the gunman. She said she did not see him, even though the man she had accused, Mr. Lopez, was sitting at the defense table.

  15. See, this is why we just need the FedGov to handle all criminal trials going forward. The state courts just can’t be trusted to do the right thing all the time, like the Feds can. No Federal Prosecutor would ever trump up fake evidence and cajole a crack addict to give false testimony, because Federal Prosecutors don’t have to worry about trumping up their crime-fighting record to win the next election.

  16. It’s kind of infuriating that I see the speech by Emma Watson at the UN or how the Koch Brothers are once again fucking America over on my progressive friend’s FB pages but never anything about this sort of behavior. There is seriously something wrong with the criminal justice system but yet nothing is done to remedy this issue. it makes me angry and sad at the same time.

    1. That’s cuz the Kochs and their allies deserve to be imprisoned for being enemies of the people.

    2. Because they don’t care. Your progressive friends don’t give a shit about “justice” or anything other than hurting the people they hate (usually people who have more than them). They really, really do not care.

      Remember, the people who bleat the most about “caring” and “social justice” are usually guaranteed to be the people who care about it the least.

      1. Remember, the people who bleat the most about “caring” and “social justice” are usually guaranteed to be the people who care about it the least.

        Remember when Tony admitted the other day that he hates the poor? That was the best.

        1. I’ve read threads where he would say stuff like that. I’m just shocked that he calls us cold and uncaring considering that he doesn’t think much of the poor.

          1. His logic seems to be that he hates the poor so he wants less of them and thinks libertarians cause more poverty. And I guess he thinks we are hypocrites on the poor?

      2. As far as I’ve seen from progressives post-Ferguson, they don’t care about police militarization, except that it disparately affects African-Americans. If it affected white people more they’d be a-ok with it.

        1. Only the right type of white people.

    3. They don’t care about justice, they care about privilege and inequality, which they have defined so narrowly as to exclude all but the part that doesn’t tend to advantage them so greatly.

  17. 100 or more cases being reviewed out of the thousands this hero prosecuted? If it was baseball he’d be hitting like .900 and shit. WTF you complaining about?

    /average American

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