Newsday staff correspondent Joshua Robin reports on the case of Angelo Martinez, who was wrongly convicted of murder. Excerpt:
Buffalo — A Brooklyn man wrongly convicted of murder 17 years ago walked free yesterday into the arms of his mother, who said she never lost faith she’d see justice for her youngest son.
Gloria Viruet, 62, of Bensonhurst, stooped from arthritis and clutching a worn handkerchief, collapsed in the embrace of her son Angelo Martinez in the courthouse lobby. A moment later, the pair burst outside into a muggy afternoon.
“Fresh air for Chulo,” Viruet called to Martinez, 36, using his boyhood nickname and waving the air into his face. He marveled at walking outside free of guards and shackles.
“A few months ago I didn’t think this would ever happen,” Martinez said after U.S. District Court Judge John T. Curtin released him on $10,000 bond.
“My mom, boy, she was my rock. She kept me strong,” said Martinez, who spent 10 years in prison even after another man confessed to the crime. Martinez must return to court in September to face sentencing for selling drugs from prison.
Assistant U.S. Attorney William J. Hochul Jr. predicted that after a total of 17 years locked up, Martinez would be placed on probation when sentenced in September. Martinez, who has surpassed sentencing guidelines for selling drugs, has said he sold the drugs so he could afford a better attorney.
Martinez was 20 when a Queens judge sentenced him to 25 years to life for the April 10, 1985, murder of Rudolph Marasco, 70, who was killed while leaving an Ozone Park bingo hall.
Martinez’s current lawyer, Oscar Michelen, said his client’s attorney during the murder trial has since been disbarred. He said she ignored a 1991 letter informing her another man had confessed to the crime during a federal drug probe.
Authorities didn’t believe Charles Rivera, a federal prisoner in the witness protection program, because he failed a lie detector test, which Michelen said was flawed.
Further investigation by the Queens district attorney’s office later confirmed Rivera’s confession that he killed Marasco as a favor to another man over a rent dispute.
At the urging of Executive Assistant District Attorney James Clark Quinn, the case was reopened.
“If this happened in Texas, he’d have been dead already,” Michelen said.