(CN) – The heirs of a man who spent 20 years in prison for a murder he didn’t commit can’t get a certificate of innocence because the former prisoner died of a heart attack before his conviction could be reversed, the D.C. Circuit ruled.
Salvatore Infantolino, also known as Michael Diamen, was one of three men wrongly convicted for a 1976 stabbing outside of a Washington, D.C., bar.
Diamen’s heirs wanted the certificate of innocence to sue for wrongful conviction and imprisonment.
In 2009, a district court judge ruled that Diamen’s co-defendants, Joseph Eastridge and Joseph Sousa, proved their innocence based on new evidence and the fact that a woman recanted her testimony claiming she heard the men confess to the fatal stabbing.
The judge granted Eastridge and Sousa certificates of innocence, but stopped short of doing the same for Diamen, finding that it had not “formally adjudicate[d]” his innocence.
The estate appealed, but the D.C. Circuit upheld the lower court’s decision.
The three-judge appellate panel found that the estate’s claim lacked one of the two prerequisites required for a certificate of innocence: a habeas corpus writ setting aside the conviction.
Although the district judge observed that “the same analysis would apply’ to Diamen as it did the others, she did not issue a habeas corpus writ setting aside Diamen’s conviction, Judge Karen Henderson wrote.
“The judge was therefore unable in the subsequent … proceeding to certify the statute’s first requisite fact – that Diamen’s conviction had ‘been reversed or set aside’ – for the simple reason that it had not been.
“The Estate was therefore not entitled to a certificate of innocence, notwithstanding Diamen might well have obtained one himself were he still living,” Henderson wrote.