By The Vanguard
BUFFALO, NY – “Not simply that the criminal justice system might have sent yet another innocent person to prison, but that Michael Agee may have had 10 years of his life stolen because prosecutors withheld crucial evidence, and did so twice: before and after his robbery conviction,” began an opinion piece by the Buffalo News editorial board earlier this month.
The board noted, “We don’t know that Agee is innocent. What we do know is that a judge ruled that the Niagara Falls man had not received a fair trial in 2012 and that the evidence prosecutors kept secret cast doubt on his guilt – significant doubt, it would seem.”
Agee, said the Buffalo News, had been convicted of attempting to rob Rizzo’s Used Furniture and Antiques in Niagara Falls in December 2010. He was also convicted of robbing a food deliveryman two days later.
The judgement came after, wrote the newspaper, “Agee’s attorneys cited exculpatory DNA evidence that prosecutors received in 2013 – after Agee’s conviction – but did not disclose. Prosecutors, they said, also failed to provide a police report that pointed to another possible suspect.”
The Board added, “That report was kept from Agee’s defense attorneys before and during his trial.”
The other suspect, Darius M. Belton, “acknowledged that he was one of the robbers at Rizzo’s and also that he supplied a gun used in the deliveryman robbery,” and testified Agee was not involved.
“Indeed, prosecutors in 2013 received a lab report showing the previously identified DNA matched Belton. They kept that secret, perhaps forgetting that their job is justice, not convictions at any cost,” wrote the Editorial Board.
While some witness testimony at Agee’s trial ID’d him as the robber, Judge Calvo-Torres “agreed that at the time of the robberies, Belton and Agee bore similar appearances, acknowledging the ‘potential for misidentification’ by witnesses,” said the Editorial Board.
“Witness misidentification is a notoriously common factor in wrongful convictions, according to the Innocence Project, which uses DNA to exonerate people convicted of crimes they did not commit.
“It’s what sent Anthony Capozzi to prison in 1987 as the Delaware Park rapist. The actual rapist, who bore a resemblance to Capozzi, then started murdering women on an Erie County bike path. Altemio Sanchez was convicted, and Capozzi freed, in 2007.