After 22 Years, Convicted Killer May Get New Trial

     MANHATTAN (CN) – After more than two decades in prison, a man convicted of murdering his girlfriend will have a second chance to challenge the shifting findings of a medical examiner whose testimony put him behind bars.
     The 2nd Circuit ordered habeas relief or a new trial for Hector Rivas on Wednesday, in a 53-page order detailing the case against him.
     The alibi Hector Rivas gave investigators afforded him a 3.5-hour window when he could have killed his girlfriend, Valerie Hill, in her Syracuse apartment late on the evening of Friday, March 27, 1987, or during the early morning hours of the following day.
     Rivas said he had been away that weekend; Hill’s father discovered his daughter’s body the following Monday.
     Syracuse’s then-chief medical examiner, Erik Mitchell, initially estimated that Hill’s time of death as late as Sunday, but then “apparently revised” that finding while testifying at Rivas’ 1993 trial, the order states.
     Rivas’ former attorney, Richard Calle, never questioned Mitchell about the discrepancy.
     “In effect, Calle’s alibi defense amounted to no defense at all,” U.S. Circuit Judge Jose Cabranes wrote for the panel.
     Nine years after the Rivas trial, Calle was disbarred following his indictment and conviction for an unrelated conspiracy to defraud the government.
     It later came to light that the New York Department of Health had investigated Mitchell around the time of his testimony against Rivas, and that Mitchell resigned months after the trial to avoid prosecution by the district attorney’s office.
     Mitchell had been suspected of “improper disposal of waste and stealing and mishandling of body parts,” Rivas says.
     Calle never researched this information calling Mitchell’s credibility into question, Rivas said.
     On Wednesday, the 2nd Circuit agreed that Rivas had ineffective assistance of counsel.
     This is not the first time that the appellate court ruled for Rivas.
     In 2008, the same court ordered additional fact finding in his case, and then found “credible” and “compelling” evidence of his “actual innocence” two years later. Both of these rulings overruled a district judge’s finding that Rivas filed his petition too late to seek habeas relief.
     Circuit Judges Rosemary Pooler and Richard Sack also sat on the panel.
     They ordered the district judge to issue a writ of habeas corpus 60 days after their ruling, unless the state orders a new trial.
     A spokeswoman for New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman told Courthouse News his office is “reviewing the decision and considering our options.”
     Rivas’ new lawyer, Richard Langone, said in an email that his clients family is “overjoyed and has been crying to me on the telephone all day.”
     “Hector Rivas was convicted of murder based on ineffective counsel who failed to uncover evidence that the medical examiner fabricated critical evidence that was used to convict Hector, and failed to present available evidence that the crime most likely occurred during a time when Hector had an airtight alibi,” he added.

%d bloggers like this: