MANHATTAN (CN) – The Second Circuit on Monday revived due-process claims from a man who spent 18 years behind bars for a murder he did not commit.
Before multiple witnesses recanted their testimony, Fernando Bermudez spent 18 years in prison for the 1991 murder of Raymond Blount at the Marc Ballroom in Manhattan.
One witness, 16-year-old Efraim Lopez, had identified the shooter to police as a man whose street name was Wool Lou.
Lopez, who said Blount had punched him in the face shortly before he was shot, later testified that police threatened to charge him with the shooting unless he fingered Bermudez as Wool Lou.
Prosecutors now concede Bermudez’s innocence and acknowledge that Lopez’s friend, Luis Munoz, had been the real “Wool Lou.”
Since his release in 2009, Bermudez has become a speaker for the Innocence Project while seeking compensation for his wrongful conviction.
Around the same time last year that Bermudez reached a then-landmark, $4.75 million settlement with New York State, Chief U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska granted the police officers summary judgment on Bermeduz’s due-process and malicious-prosecution claims.
A three-judge panel for the Second Circuit revived the due-process counts for trial Monday.
The 29-page ruling means that a federal jury will decide whether a suggestive photo line-up and coerced witness testimony played a role in Bermudez’s conviction.
Testimony from the original trial showed that the witnesses viewed the photo array as a group, Bermudez says.
Three police witnesses did not recognize any person in the lineup, and four identified Bermudez as someone whom they recognized, according to the opinion.
The city contends that any problems with the photo lineup got cleared up when Assistant District Attorney James Rodriguez conducted a separate investigation before deciding to prosecute the case.
For the federal appeals court, however, “there are triable issues of fact concerning whether ADA Rodriguez’s decision to bring charges was tainted by misleading information about how the witnesses originally came to identify Bermudez as the shooter.”
As to Bermudez’s malicious-prosecution claims, “no facts in dispute support a lack of probable cause to charge him with the relevant crime,” Judge Guido Calabresi wrote for a three-judge panel.
Judges Peter Hall and Jed Rakoff joined the unanimous opinion.
A representative for the New York City Law Department called the decision disappointing.
The Manhattan DA’s office declined to comment, and Bermudez’s lawyers have not returned a request for interview.