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New York Judge Declares Murder Defendant “Actually Innocent”

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In New York, a trial court took the unprecedented step of dismissing a murder indictment against a man declared “actually innocent.” Supreme Court Justice John Cataldo heard evidence from 4 witnesses who originally identified Fernando Bermudez as the one who shot and killed 16 year-old Raymond Blount outside a club in New York in 1991. The witnesses explained to Justice Cataldo that they all identified Mr. Bermudez at the same time, which is known as an improper method which can lead to an inaccurate identification. In addition, the justice heard from Efrain Lopez, who had identified a man named “Wool Lou” as the shooter. Although Mr. Bermudez was never known by that name, Mr. Lopez identified him at trial. Mr. Lopez explained to Justice Cataldo that he lied at the trial because he’d been pressured by the prosecutor and the detectives into identifying Mr. Bermudez improperly.

After hearing the evidence from Mr. Bermudez that supported his request for a new trial, Justice Cataldo found that “clear and convincing evidence” showed that Mr. Bermudez was, in fact, innocent of the crime. Moreover, the justice found that “all credible evidence” pointed to another man, Luis Munoz, as the killer.

Justice Cataldo was so convinced of Mr. Bermudez’ innocence that he not only ordered a new trial, but took the extraordinary step of dismissing the indictment against him. The new New York District Attorney has yet to decide whether to appeal the court’s decision.

This case reflects a growing trend in trial courts, such as the case of Troy Davis in Georgia, to take seriously claims of innocence based upon witness recantations and other non-DNA evidence.

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