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Innocent Man Gains His Freedom After 15 Years

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A New York man, Jabbar Collins, was convicted of murder on Mar 13, 1995, in Brooklyn, New York. Over the next 15 years, he worked by himself to prove his innocence. He managed to obtain statements from trial witnesses that they were offered undisclosed deals, threatened into testifying, and evidence that a witness’ trial testimony was patently false. His multiple state appeals were turned down, and a federal judge finally granted him access to the information which would prove what the witnesses had already admitted: that they testified fully expecting to receive some kind of benefit from the government.

After federal Judge Dora Irizarry , a George W. Bush appointee, ordered a hearing on the matter, the State of New York offered Mr. Collins a plea to manslaughter and immediate release from prison. He turned it down. Later that day, prosecutors withdrew their objection to a new trial, and said they would retry Mr. Collins in state court. Mr. Collins persuaded Judge Irizarry to hold a hearing to determine whether re-prosecution was barred due to prosecutorial misconduct. Before Judge Irizarry could reach a decision, the State of New York threw in the towel, saying that “we believe in the defendant’s guilt,” but felt that the “weaknesses that now exist with the witnesses” doomed a retrial.

Mr. Collins walked out of prison on June 9, 2010, and now works as a paralegal for Joel Rudin, a well-known civil rights attorney. His civil suit against the city is pending in federal court.

Once again, the circumstances of Mr. Collins’ conviction and exoneration show the need for expanded access to government documents in the post-conviction process. That is why the Pennsylvania Innocence Project supports a revamping of the Open Records Act to allow for at least some discovery of police materials to those with post-conviction claims of innocence.

For a video detailing Mr. Collins’ quest for justice, click http://s.wsj.net/media/swf/main.swf

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