MANHATTAN (CN) – A teen who served 25 years for the infamous “Utah tourist” murder brought a federal complaint Thursday against New York City and the nearly two dozen police officer and detectives he says railroaded him for the crime.
The murder of Brian Watkins on Sept. 2, 1990, occurred in what the complaint describes as “New York City’s darkest era.” The 22-year-old had been on a subway platform with his parents, his brother and his sister-in-law, heading to dinner in Greenwich Village when the family was mugged and Watkins was fatally stabbed.
“So high-profile was this killing, and such was its threat to the city’s tourism industry, that the Mayor and District Attorney faced unusual pressures to deliver immediate results,” the complaint states, brought on behalf of Johnny Hincapie by the law firm Harvis & Fett.
That same fall the Central Park Five “were wrongly convicted in the brutal rape of a jogger, only to be exonerated many years later,” the complaint also states.
Hincapie notes that the both the case of the Central Park jogger and the Watkins murder had the same lead detective, Carlos Gonzalez.
“As he had done in the Jogger case, and using the same tactics, Gonzalez and the other defendants closed the Watkins investigation in less than 24 hours,” the complaint states.
Now 45, Hincapie was newly 18 on the night of the murder. Scoring as “impaired” on an earlier verbal IQ test, Hincapie had gone with a group of friends to a birthday party at the Roseland Ballroom.
The complaint says Hincapie and a friend were chatting with two girls was at the turnstile level of the subway when Watkins was being murdered below them on the platform.
“The detectives were not interested in the truth,” Harvis wrote. “Their goal was to round up and implicate as many of the young suspects as possible, close the case, and obtain the professional accolades that were sure to follow.”
The complaint said New York City has an unusually high rate of false confessions, with nearly 50 percent of DNA exonerations showing the conviction had come from a false confession.
Hincapie meanwhile was an easy target for the officers’ manipulations because he “lacked any meaningful grasp of the nature or gravity of the circumstances he confronted,” the complaint states.
In addition to the false confession, the only evidence against Hincapie was “a single witness’s equivocal, cross-racial pre-trial statement that Mr. Hincapie looked ‘vaguely familiar.’”
He was never positively identified by anyone as having taken part in the mugging or the murder. Four suspects, including Hincapie, were found guilty and given maximum sentences, according to the complaint.
Hincapie’s conviction was vacated and the indictment against him dismissed in 2015 because a judge couldn’t find sufficient evidence to keep in him prison.
The NYPD declined to comment on pending litigation. Gabriel Harvis and the New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment Friday.