New York Man Who Spent Nearly 40 Years in Prison Maintaining Innocence Files New Motion Alleging Police Fabricated Murder Weapon Evidence

Via Pxfuel

By Michael Apfel & Ivan Villegas

NYACK, NY – Amer Zada, a man who served decades in prison for what he maintains was a wrongful conviction, is currently trying to vacate his murder conviction with the help of the Deskovic Foundation.

The authors of this article had a chance to sit down for an interview with Zada and his legal team, including Arthur Larkin and Jeffrey Deskovic.

Deskovic, founder of the Deskovic Foundation and part of Zada’s current legal counsel, stated that the inconclusive DNA evidence was an inspiration to take Zada’s case.

It all began on June 15, 1979, at around 5 a.m., when police responded to a call of dogs barking and screams in the vicinity of a restaurant parking lot on the waterfront in Nyack, New York. Police arrived at the sight of Zada standing over the victim, who was nearly naked and had been stabbed 26 times.

Zada insists he had nothing to do with the incident, claiming his car had broken down nearby and he was waiting for a friend to meet him there.

The defense later presented evidence at trial including witness testimony and phone records that corroborated Zada’s alibi, demonstrating that he called his friend to help him get a tow truck, the friend tried to find a tow operator but could not, and the friend drove to the Windjammer restaurant parking lot to pick up Zada.

The case’s district attorney stipulated at trial Zada’s car was heavily damaged and found in a grassy area adjacent to the parking lot, and two nearby witnesses who were parked in the lot across the street saw Zada’s friend there and disclosed this information to the police. These witness statements were not disclosed to the defense.

Nevertheless, police thoroughly searched and apprehended Zada, later charging him with murder in the second degree.

Police did not initially find any weapons on Zada, and there was very little blood on his clothing (on his pants pocket and his underwear, where police officers who had administered first aid to the victim, whose body was very bloody, had searched him), and there was blood on his arm, as well, consistent with Zada’s account that he was helping the victim.

Blood was also found on one of his boots—the one that, Zada maintains, he was wearing when he approached the victim and tried to lift her up.

Two days later, the police recovered a knife with the victim’s blood which they alleged was recovered from the same patrol car used to transport Zada from the crime scene. Zada’s counsel insists this evidence was fabricated by the police.

The DNA evidence was inconclusive and, as the recent motion filed by Zada’s legal team mentions, there is reason to believe that the evidence at trial concerning the knife, its connection to Zada and its purported “recovery” in the police vehicle, was falsely presented.

The Deskovic Foundation is not the first legal team to help Zada in his appeals, and they are not the first attorneys to notice potential signs of a wrongful conviction.

“Before I was in contact with Jeffrey and Arthur, I had a private attorney who had read my paperwork and took an interest in my case, because it was apparent from what he read in my trial transcripts that some shady things had taken place,” Zada said.

Zada added, “And it was obvious, apparent to him in any event, that something wasn’t right. All this time I’ve been maintaining my innocence. And they have all been saying how guilty I was.”

The officers claimed the knife was concealed by Zada and was subsequently hidden in the patrol car at some point in time as they drove him to the station for further questioning. Officers further claimed Zada had bought the knife from a local storekeeper, who gave a statement that he sold the knife to Zada at the Bronx Terminal Market.

Further investigation into the Bronx Terminal Market by the police, including an interview with a security supervisor, revealed that the Bronx Terminal Market did not sell knives. This interview was not disclosed to the defense.

During the trial, police provided false testimony regarding whether interrogations were conducted about the knife’s origins. Officers who allegedly recovered the knife signed Daily Activity Reports, reports that were not provided to Defense Counsel, for that day, June 17, that included inconsistencies about their whereabouts. The vehicle records for the car in which the knife was allegedly discovered were not disclosed to the defense.

“I think that the Brady material that we’ve shown, and what I believe is clearly false testimony at the trial is enough to warrant a new trial,” said Arthur Larkin, Zada’s current defense attorney.

Larkin added, “I think that a fair minded DA, or reform minded DA would be very concerned about what’s in our motion, and it’s unfortunate that it appears that [Tom Walsh’s’] office does not seem to be concerned about it.”

Brady materials, used in Brady motions, are motions requesting the prosecutor to turn over exculpatory evidence to the defense. And, prosecutors have a legal obligation to turn over exculpatory evidence, but Brady motions are used in instances where there is disagreement about whether evidence qualifies as exculpatory, revealing evidence that can sometimes result in exonerations.

Rockland County’s current district attorney has not responded to the motion yet. DA Tom Walsh ran on a campaign promising to use DNA testing wrongful conviction claims and “not to fight obvious miscarriages of justice,” as Deskovic explained.

Larkin explained the very real possibility that the crime did not even occur at the crime scene, and that the victim’s body might have been dropped off there instead.

“There’s some blood splatter in the parking lot, which at least suggests that there was a chase or something going on at some point in the parking lot,” explained Larkin.

Despite Zada’s corroborated alibi defense and the inconsistencies with the prosecution’s story on how the murder weapon was found, a jury found him guilty of murder in the second degree, attempted sodomy in the first degree, and aggravated sexual abuse in 1980 and he was granted parole on Feb. 21, 2018, nearly 40 years later.

Zada and his team explained that in order to be released on parole, he had to admit guilt, which would be inconsistent with his innocence claims. As a result, he was previously denied parole seven times.

After being granted parole, Zada had to register as a sex offender, which made it nearly impossible to find housing that complied with the New York State Sexual Assault Reform Act restrictions.

Zada explained that it took an additional two years after being granted parole in 2018 to actually be released because parole took active steps to make it more difficult to find housing.

“Parole was going to every person that was willing to rent me a place and basically threatening them, coercing them, and telling them that they didn’t want to release me because if they did, they’d be ostracized by their community, so forth and so on,” Zada said.

“Eventually after two years, two whole years, there was one individual that was here that told the parole that he didn’t want to hear it, that he’d rent me a place, and that he believed in me, and he allowed me to live in this home…but it hasn’t been easy with parole either, they haven’t made anything easy on me…my whole time that I’ve been out of prison, I’ve pretty much been on house arrest,” Zada added.

Now, Zada’s legal team are waiting on a response to the Brady motion from the Rockland County DA, in the hopes that it will lead to a new trial and an exoneration later down the line.

Deskovic explained that DA Walsh’s office hasn’t, “as yet, to my knowledge, filed an opposition, though it appears as though they’re leaning that way.”

“We have to see what arguments they try to make,” said Larkin. “Here, we’ve got it very clear… that the Brady material that we uncovered was not disclosed to the defense.

“At Zada’s sentencing, his defense lawyer William Kunstler said, ‘There’s a mystery about this case. And I think one day, it’s going to come to light. But there are things that happened here that just don’t seem right.’ Something along those lines. And what we found is pretty much exactly what Kunstler was talking about.”

Nearly 40 years in prison has not been easy for Zada, to say the least.

“I had a lot of very vicious things happen to me in prison. I have post-traumatic stress disorder, I’ve had it for years,” explained Zada, adding, “Certain things that have occurred that I really don’t feel comfortable discussing, but suffice to say they were devastating things that took place.”

Despite the decades incarcerated, Zada remains optimistic in getting the truth out.

“I have no idea how I was able to survive, I made it. I was blessed, I guess you would say…I’ve always stood up for the truth, knowing that every time I went to the parole board, they were going to keep hitting me at the parole board and that I was going to die in prison.

“I still maintained my innocence. I still held on to the truth because that’s the only thing I had left, was the truth. And I really feel that people need to know the truth.”

The Deskovic Foundation hopes that increased coverage of Zada’s case will improve chances at exoneration for Zada.

“That’s a way that people can help with the advent of new media, you know, everybody’s First Amendment right kind of got heightened this new way of exercising that so people that do write blogs or podcasts or blog talk radio, they can certainly help us publicize, publicize things about this case,” Deskovic said.

“In addition to that, if you’re out there and you read an article, if you have any first-hand knowledge of this case, you know, come forward, contact the foundation, contact Arthur, me, certainly contact us, we’re going to pass it to Arthur, if you have first-hand information, come forward with it.”

About The Author

Michael Apfel is a second year at USC majoring in Legal Studies and minoring in Sports Media Industries. He plans on law school after his undergraduate studies looking to work in social justice.

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