Newly public documents in the high-profile wrongful conviction case of Jabbar Collins show former Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes has long believed the man is not guilty, and also that the district attorney’s office held reluctant witnesses in custody.
Hynes, who testified at a deposition in December while still district attorney, directly contradicted the city’s insistence that Collins was guilty of a murder that kept him behind bars for 16 years. Hynes also seemingly contradicted himself, saying that the office detained material witnesses. At a public debate several months earlier, Hynes denied that his office had ever “held anyone against their will.”
Portions of the deposition transcript were included in public filings in recent days in connection with Collins’ lawsuit alleging that police and prosecutorial misconduct led to his wrongful 1995 conviction for the murder of a rabbi.
The city, defending itself in a federal civil action in the Eastern District, Collins v. City of New York, 11-cv-00766, maintains that Collins was guilty, despite the fact that the conviction was vacated amidst allegations of misconduct by the lead prosecutor, Michael Vecchione. In recent days, Collins’ attorney, Joel Rudin of Manhattan, filed portions of Hynes’ deposition testimony as part of a pretrial submission.
On Tuesday, Rudin filed a letter to Eastern District Magistrate Judge Robert Levy (See Profile) opposing the city’s motion to quash a subpoena for the deposition testimony of retired NYPD detective Louis Scarcella. Rudin included additional portions of Hynes’ deposition with that motion.
At the Dec. 19, 2013 deposition, Hynes said that in 2010 he had directed Assistant District Attorney Kevin Richardson to withdraw the office’s objection to Collins’ habeas petition because the case had “fallen apart.” Hynes said that by that point he no longer believed Collins was guilty, and considered the three main prosecution witnesses unreliable.
Hynes also disavowed a Jan. 28, 2013 New York Times column in which he was quoted saying, “We believe he did it,” indicating that he still believed Collins was guilty. At the deposition, Hynes said that when he was interviewed by the Times, he “no longer held [the] position” that Collins had committed the murder and said he was misquoted by a columnist.
One of the witnesses against Collins apparently had been detained as a material witness, giving rise to allegations in the lawsuit that Hynes’ office ran a “private jail system where witnesses were illegally interrogated and forcibly detained indefinitely” (NYLJ, May 30, 2013).
At a debate in June, Hynes denied his office had ever forcibly detained anyone (NYLJ, June 5, 2013). However, at the deposition in December, Hynes said material witnesses were either briefly jailed by a judge or turned over to “the custody of the D.A.” and detained in a hotel room. Hynes said witnesses held in a hotel room “were not free to leave so, sure, they were prisoners. They were in custody.”