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A federal judge exercised his authority as the “13th Juror” last month, vacating the November conviction of a Hartford man, saying he was “left with a distinct concern that an innocent person may have been convicted.” U.S. District Court Judge Stefan R. Underhill issued the decision Jan. 27, after a two-minute, 25-second audiotape of Hartford police radio traffic proved not to be a real-time recording as represented during trial, but contained the radio transmissions made over a nearly eight-minute period. That tape, said Underhill, was the cornerstone of the prosecution’s case. And, while he didn’t say the government’s key witness perjured himself, Underhill spent much of the 23-page decision showing that his testimony was at least inaccurate. The witness, Suffield Police Chief Michael Manzi, was a lieutenant commanding Hartford’s Community Response Division in the south district on Dec. 31, 2002 — the night Reynaldo Arroyo was arrested on charges of unlawful weapons possession by a felon after police responded to a fight-in-progress call in front of the Silver Dollar Caf� on Zion Street. “Had the jury known the truth about the tape, and thus how inaccurate was Manzi’s testimony about the sequence and timing of events, it would have had a ‘tremendous impact on the jury’s credibility assessment of the witness(es),’” Underhill wrote. “In short, all of the forensic evidence was wholly consistent with Arroyo’s innocence.” The other forensic evidence included testimony that Arroyo’s hands tested negative for gunpowder residue and no fingerprints were recovered from the weapon. During trial, Manzi testified that when he pulled up to the scene outside the cafe, he saw Arroyo holding a gun. After seeing him, Arroyo then ran into the bar, with Manzi close at heel. Once inside the bar, Manzi testified Arroyo ran into the ladies room, then ran out, into Manzi’s arms, where he was taken into custody. Manzi testified the chase took no more than 17 seconds, and he never lost sight of him for more than a second or two. His testimony was corroborated by his then-partner, Sgt. Scott Samsom. Defense witnesses contradicted that version of events, saying there was no chase — that officers entered the bar and walked around for several minutes before taking Arroyo, who was sitting at the bar, into custody. The defense called Hartford police officer Edward Foster to corroborate their version. Foster’s police report from the night of the incident showed that Manzi told Foster that when Manzi entered the bar, he “had seen Mr. Arroyo exiting the ladies room and walking quickly to the bar.” Foster also testified that when he entered the bar, Manzi was holding a firearm and Arroyo was in the process of being handcuffed. According to the tape, as played at trial, the time from Manzi’s partner radioing dispatch that a foot pursuit was under way to a transmission that Arroyo was in handcuffs is 36 seconds. That made the defense’s version of events impossible, the prosecutor argued repeatedly during his closing arguments to the jury. But questions raised during trial prompted Public Defender Paul Thomas to request a review of the computer records at Hartford police dispatch. “In light of testimony, it became a matter of significance and doubt,” said Arroyo’s attorney, Paul Thomas, of the Federal Public Defender’s office. With the U.S. Attorney’s office’s cooperation, investigators learned the tape played at trial was not a real-time recording — it had “dead air,” or silent periods, omitted. The actual elapsed time from the pursuit call to the handcuffs call was two minutes and nine seconds — not 36 seconds. That, said Underhill in his decision to vacate the conviction, changed everything. “The actual timing of the police broadcasts reveals that Manzi’s testimony was materially inaccurate. Indeed, the events Manzi swore took 17 seconds ‘at the very most’ actually lasted closer to two minutes and nine seconds. Thus, because the distance over which the chase occurred was quite short, the chase could not have lasted two minutes and also been the hot pursuit that Manzi described. “Simply put, the timetable of actual events demonstrates that the incident could not have occurred as Manzi and Samsom testified it did,” he wrote. “Manzi’s inaccurate testimony regarding his pursuit and arrest of Arroyo directly calls into question the veracity of the rest of his statements.” Underhill also pointed out that both Manzi and Samsom had reviewed the transmission tape in preparing for their testimony. Foster, whose testimony buttressed defense arguments, had not. Underhill also commented in a footnote that, “Manzi’s testimony about material facts was fundamentally false or inaccurate.” Contacted last week, Manzi stood by his testimony, saying the time element of the tapes was irrelevant to what happened. Manzi declined to comment further. Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Daily, who prosecuted the case, also declined to comment. Paul Thomas said the government had not told him whether they plan to retry Arroyo, who is currently serving a three-year, three-month sentence on state drug charges.

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